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UK's Sunak will not investigate interior minister over speeding fine row

British Home Secretary Braverman arrives at Number 10 Downing Street in London

By William James and Alistair Smout

LONDON (Reuters) - British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said on Wednesday he would not investigate interior minister Suella Braverman over her handling of a speeding offence last year, ruling that her actions did not breach the ministerial code.

The move spares Braverman, a minister who has become a favourite among right-wing lawmakers for her views on immigration but whose suitability to the job is questioned by others.

Sunak's decision came after he took four days to consider a Sunday Times report that Braverman had asked officials to help arrange a private driving-awareness course to stop her speeding violation from becoming known.

Braverman said she should have handled the incident differently but she had not been seeking to avoid sanction, and Sunak on Wednesday said he had discussed the matter with his independent ethics adviser and would not take further action.

"My decision is that these matters do not amount to a breach of the Ministerial Code," Sunak said in a letter to Braverman, referring to the rules governing ministerial behaviour.

"As you have recognised, a better course of action could have been taken to avoid giving rise to the perception of impropriety."

Opposition parties had called on the prime minister to investigate whether Braverman breached the ministerial code over her handling of the incident. Ministers are barred from using government officials to help with their personal affairs.

Labour leader Keir Starmer's spokesperson said Sunak's conversations with the ethics adviser, combined with the lack of a full investigation, created a "hybrid situation" which "satisfies nobody in terms of the necessary transparency".

"We still think the right thing would've been for the adviser on the ministerial code to have looked at this," he told reporters.

BESPOKE ARRANGEMENTS

Braverman said in a letter to Sunak she had asked officials whether doing a speeding course was appropriate given that her new role as interior minister meant she was a protected person, and that she had a "lack of familiarity with protocol".

She said she had stopped discussing the matter with officials after receiving advice that it was not an appropriate matter for civil servants to look into.

She eventually decided to take a driving penalty after assessing that a speeding course was not compatible with her security, privacy and political concerns. She apologised for the distraction she had caused.

"In hindsight, or if faced with a similar situation again, I would have chosen a different course of action," she wrote to Sunak.

Sunak, who promised to restore government integrity and professionalism when he took power in October following protracted turmoil under Boris Johnson and Liz Truss, has already lost three cabinet members to scandal.

Braverman resigned from her job last year after she sent confidential information using a private phone. Sunak reappointed her less than a week later in one of his first acts as prime minister.

(Reporting by William James, writing by Muvija M and Alistair Smout, editing by Elizabeth Piper and Christina Fincher)