The Government Chief Whip was facing growing demands to resign tonight after it emerged he had directed a volley of abuse at policemen guarding Downing Street.
Pressure was mounting on Andrew Mitchell as police contradicted his account of the confrontation when Mr Mitchell - nicknamed Thrasher because of his disciplinarian reputation - was stopped from cycling out of the main gates to the Prime Minister’s residence.
The Tory Cabinet minister, who has been in his current post in charge of party discipline for less than three weeks, admitted bawling out the officers and apologised for the tirade. But he strongly denied a report in the Sun that he branded them “f***ing plebs” and said they should “learn your f***ing place”.
However, the Metropolitan Police Federation, which represents rack-and-file officers in London, backed the newspaper’s account and called for Mr Mitchell to quit.
“I know what the officers have told me, and what was reported in The Sun this morning is absolutely what happened,” said its chairman, John Tully.
“So I think Mr Mitchell needs to address his position and resign as soon as possible. Someone who holds such high office, and who apparently holds the police in such contempt, is not deserving of such high office and he should resign.”
He said at least two other officers and members of the public witnessed the outburst.
As the affair threatened to deal a severe blow to Tory attempts to “detoxify” the party’s image, David Cameron issued a wounding rebuke to his Chief Whip.
Speaking on a visit to Manchester following the murders of Pcs Fiona Bone and Nicola Hughes, the Prime Minister said: “What Andrew Mitchell said and what he did was not appropriate. It was wrong and it is right that he has apologised.
“He has obviously apologised to me, but more importantly he has apologised thoroughly to the police and that needed to be done.”
The clash came on Wednesday when Mr Mitchell tried to wheel his bicycle through the Downing Street gates, but was told he had to use the smaller entrance for pedestrians. The Sun reported him as saying: “I’m the Chief Whip and I’m coming through these gates.”
Mr Mitchell was reported to have raged: “Best you learn your f****** place. You don’t run this f****** Government. You’re f****** plebs.” The newspaper also claimed he described the officers as “morons”.
Tory sources last night said he admitted losing his temper and using intemperate language and had apologised to the officer involved, but strongly denied using the words attributed to them. They added that the Prime Minister was happy with his explanation and regarded the episode as closed.
However, Yvette Cooper, the shadow Home Secretary, said: “No one should treat police officers or public servants in this way. And the idea that a Cabinet minister could behave like this towards police officers doing their job is an utter disgrace. It tells you all you need to know about this out-of-touch Government and its attitude to public servants.”
A Labour spokesman said: “There are two alternatives - either the Chief Whip used appalling and offensive language to an officer going about their duty, or Mr Mitchell is saying the officer is lying. Downing Street will know. They must make the position clear urgently. A half-hearted apology is not enough.”
In a statement on Thursday night Mr Mitchell said: “While I do not accept that I used any of the words that have been reported, I accept I did not treat the police with the respect they deserve. I have seen the supervising sergeant and apologised, and will also apologise to the police officer involved.”
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Sir George Young
Once a minister for Housing and Planning, Sir George was keen to tackle the problem of people living on the streets. Alas, he described the homeless as “the people you step on when you come out of the opera”.
In 1992, as the Government was seeking public support for the privatisation of the railways, the Public Transport minister said there should be “cheap and cheerful” trains for people such as typists, with “luxury” travel reserved for civil servants and businessmen.
Veteran MP Sir Nicholas ignored the public mood over the expenses scandal, saying: “They want to stop members of parliament travelling first class. That puts us below local councillors and officers of local government. They all travel first class…” He described standard class passengers as “a totally different type of people. There’s lots of children, there’s noise, there’s activity”.
Soames infuriated John Prescott by making fun of his working class background as a ship’s steward. “Mine’s a gin and tonic, Giovanni,” he hollered at the former Deputy Leader of the Labour Party across the Commons dining room.
In his early life, Lord Weatherill worked as a tailor in his father’s business. He became Speaker of the House of Commons in 1983, but on his first day on the job he popped to the lavatory and heard one MP say to another: “I don’t know what this place is coming to, Tom, they’ve got my tailor in here now.”
Mr Robertson was forced to deny that he told security at the Olympic Park’s media centre: “I’m the Olympics minister. You should damn well know who I am,” when he turned up without the proper credentials.