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Braverman defies No 10’s order to take out inflammatory element of police attack article

Rishi Sunak facing Tory calls to sack his home secretary over her ‘unhinged’ claim police are biased – after she ignored Downing Street demand for changes to op-ed

Adam Forrest
Political Correspondent
Thursday 09 November 2023 15:03 GMT
Yvette Cooper calls for Suella Braverman to be sacked after comments on Met police bias

No 10 has made clear that it did not approve Suella Braverman’s incendiary op-ed which accused the Metropolitan Police of bias in allowing Saturday’s pro-Palestine march to go ahead.

The home secretary sparked a furious outcry after she accused Scotland Yard of “playing favourites” over the rally set to take place on Armistice Day – claiming police bias had stopped far-right protests, but permitted “pro-Palestine mobs” to demonstrate.

Rishi Sunak’s official spokesman said Downing Street did not approve the final text of Ms Braverman’s op-ed for The Times. It is understood No 10 asked for changes but they were ignored by the home secretary.

Her comments have been widely condemned and have sparked a fresh row within the Conservative Party. Senior Conservatives called on Mr Sunak to sack Ms Braverman after her “unhinged” and “ignorant” comments. “She must go,” a former Tory cabinet minister told The Independent. Another ex-minister said she was trying “goad” the PM into firing her.

Labour said the home secretary was now “out of control” – challenging Mr Sunak to immediately sack his home secretary or say whether he agreed with her views.

But Downing Street said Mr Sunak still had “full confidence” in Ms Braverman – despite not saying whether Mr Sunak agrees with the language used by Ms Braverman.

“The prime minister continues to believe that the police will operate without fear or favour,” his spokesman said. No 10 also said it was still looking into the “details” of what happened in relation to her op-ed.

In the op-ed, Ms Braverman also sparked outrage by claiming Islamists were using Saturday’s Gaza demo to express “primacy” and compared it to extremist rallies in Northern Ireland with links to terrorism.

She wrote: “I do not believe that these marches are merely a cry for help for Gaza. They are an assertion of primacy by certain groups - particularly Islamists – of the kind we are more used to seeing in Northern Ireland.”

The home secretary added: “Also disturbingly reminiscent of Ulster are the reports that some of Saturday’s march group organisers have links to terrorist groups, including Hamas.”

Ms Braverman also claimed “there is a perception that senior police officers play favourites when it comes to protesters”, before claiming some current police officers have also complained about a “double standard”.

Suella Braverman and Rishi Sunak have put pressure on police (PA Wire)

She said: “Right-wing and nationalist protesters who engage in aggression are rightly met with a stern response yet pro-Palestinian mobs displaying almost identical behaviour are largely ignored, even when clearly breaking the law?”

A source close to Ms Braverman said the Northern Ireland comment was a reference to the activities of “dissident Republicans”.

Ms Braverman’s article is only her latest controversy in recent days. She has described the protests as “hate marches”, claimed some people were homeless as a “lifestyle choice” and proposed restricting tents for rough sleepers.

One senior Tory, a former cabinet minister, told The Independent that Mr Sunak must sack Ms Braverman, arguing it was unacceptable to “publicly undermine the police in this way”.

Another former Tory minister told The Independent: “She should be fired”. And yet another ex-cabinet minister: “She is obviously goading Sunak into sacking her now.”

One Tory MP agreed it was time for Mr Sunak to finally get rid of Ms Braverman. “It’s not a reasonable or sensible thing for her say. It’s not compatible with high office. She is sticking two fingers up at No 10. This daily cycle of spouting nonsense isn’t helping.”

Another ex-Tory minister called the remarks on police bias were “appalling”, and said there was “huge upset” among most Conservative MPs about her remarks on homelessness being a “lifestyle choice” and proposal to restrict tents.

While another senior Conservative, a former minister, said Ms Braverman now a “liability” for the Tories and said Mr Sunak would be damaged if he “lets her continue peddling inflated rhetoric”.

Protesters during recent march organised by Palestine Solidarity Campaign in London (PA Wire)

A senior Tory figure told the BBC Ms Braverman’s latest comments were “unhinged”, while another Conservative source called the comparison with Northern Ireland “offensive and ignorant”.

And in a sign of cabinet disquiet, one Tory minister said Ms Braverman was “dangerous and irresponsible” for “fuelling” the chances of disorder by far-right groups on Saturday. “Her job is to calm things,” the minister told the i.

Ms Braverman failed to show up in the Commons to answer an urgent question. Answering for her, policing minister Chris Philip refused to back her claim of bias and said it was “right that the police are operationally independent of government”.

Shadow home secretary Yvetter Cooper said her claim of bias was an attempt to “rip up the operational independence of police” and was “deliberately inflaming community tensions”. The Labour frontbencher told the Commons: “She is encouraging extremists on all sides. It is highly irresponsible and dangerous.”

Ms Cooper added: “We know what she’s up to, claiming homelessness is a lifestyle choice, picking fights with police to get headlines. But the job of the home secretary is to keep the public safe – not run an endless leadership campaign.”

The senior Labour figure also challenged the PM to say whether he sanctioned her op-ed. “Either the prime minister has endorsed this or is too weak to sack her. If he can’t get rid of her or get a grip of her conduct, it means he has given up on serious government.”

Mr Harper, the transport secretary, had earlier said he disagreed with Ms Braverman’s remarks. “I think all police forces are focused on upholding the law without fear or favour – that’s what they do.” He told Times Radio: “I’m not going to indulge in textual analysis of her article.”

Even right-wing Tory peer Lord Greenhalgh – a former deputy mayor for policing in London – said Ms Braverman’s comments had crossed a line. “I just don’t think that’s a reasonable way for a home secretary to behave,” he told BBC’s Newsnight.

Suella Braverman has been accused of ‘trying to get fired’ (PA Wire)

London mayor Sadiq Khan said Ms Braverman’s latest words accusing the police of bias were “inaccurate, inflammatory and irresponsible”.

And Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Alistair Carmichael said Ms Braverman was trying desparately to be the next Tory leader. “The home secretary’s desire to stoke divisions and ramp up tensions in this way is irresponsible and dangerous.”

Sir Tom Winsor, former HM chief inspector of constabulary, said Ms Braverman’s claims of police bias were “unprecedented” and “crosses the line”. He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think it’s contrary to the letter of that constitutional settlement.” Sir Tom said it would now be “much more difficult” now for Met chief Sir Mark to apply to halt the march.

Former chief superintendent of the Met, Dal Babu, also described Ms Braverman’s assault on Scotland Yard’s independence as “unprecedented”.

Mr Babu told Sky News: “We are not Russia. We are not China. We are not Iran. We need to ensure that we facilitate demonstrations that are lawful and deal with individuals that break the law.”

Suella Braverman and Met chief Sir Mark Rowley (PA Archive)

Ms Braverman’s attack comes after Mr Sunak conceded that the pro-Palestine march will go ahead – but insisted Scotland Yard’s decision is kept under “constant review”. The PM told Met chief Sir Mark Rowley he would hold him “accountable” if there was trouble.

Sir Mark has come under huge pressure from Mr Sunak, Ms Braverman and other senior Tory ministers to ban Saturday’s march in London – but has said the law would only allow him to do so only in “extreme cases”.

Former Met assistant commissioner Neil Basu condemned the pressure put on by Mr Sunak and Ms Braverman during the saga – arguing we are “witnessing the end of operational independence of policing” in the UK.

Mr Basu told LBC that it would “go against the law” if the Sir Mark banned the march without the sufficient evidence, saying “no politician should be putting a chief constable in that place”.

The Met Police Federation, which represents rank and file officers, said: “Ministers should support our frontline officers. The commissioner is of the opinion that it can go ahead and we can police it. Job done. It is unfair that politicians are coming out with talk of holding people to account.”

The Met had urged march organisers to “urgently reconsider” the event on Saturday because of a growing risk of violence, but the pro-Palestinian coalition behind it have refused to call it off.

The force could request the power to ban the event under Section 13 of the Public Order Act 1986 – but that would only apply if there was the threat of serious public disorder.

The planned route for the London march goes from Hyde Park – about a mile from the war memorial in Whitehall – to the US embassy in Vauxhall, south of the Thames.

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