Rishi Sunak ‘appalled’ at Met over ‘openly Jewish’ remark at pro-Palestine march

PM also demands to know what force’s boss ‘will do to ensure officers do more to make Jewish communities in London feel safe’

Kate Devlin
Politics and Whitehall Editor
Sunday 21 April 2024 21:27 BST
Robert Jenrick condemns antisemitic incidents

Rishi Sunak is “appalled” at the Metropolitan Police’s handling of a pro-Palestinian march at which officers threatened a man with arrest and told him he was “openly Jewish”.

Downing Street said the prime minister expects the commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Sir Mark Rowley, to “account” for the events, which have led to calls for the Met boss to step down.

Sir Mark has been summoned to a meeting with the policing minister Chris Philp this week and is expected to meet with Home Secretary James Cleverly in the coming days after the incident prompted anger within the government. But No 10 stopped short of echoing former home secretary Suella Braverman’s call for the commissioner to resign, with government sources playing down the possibility that he could be sacked.

The mayor of London Sadiq Khan has also summoned the commissioner to a meeting on Monday to discuss “community relations” following outcry over the incident. However, he is understood to retain the confidence of the mayor.

The row erupted after it emerged that the head of the Campaign Against Antisemitism (CAA), Gideon Falter, was threatened with arrest near a pro-Palestine protest on 13 April, with one police officer describing him as “openly Jewish”.

Another officer told Mr Falter he would be arrested if he did not leave the area because he was “causing a breach of peace with all these other people” and his presence was “antagonising”.

The CAA has since called on Sir Mark to resign or be removed from his post.

A government source said: “The PM has seen the footage and is as appalled as everyone else by the officer calling Mr Falter ‘openly Jewish’.

“He expects the Met commissioner to account for how it happened, and what he will do to ensure officers do more to make Jewish communities in London feel safe.”

Gideon Falter speaks with a police officer during the march
Gideon Falter speaks with a police officer during the march (Campaign Against Antisemitism/PA Wire)

Energy security secretary Claire Coutinho told the BBC that she “personally wouldn’t go that far” – referring to the calls for Sir Mark to resign – “because I haven’t had the conversations with him”.

Earlier, she claimed his future was a matter for London mayor Sadiq Khan, “who has the responsibility to hold the Met to account”.

While Mr Khan does have the power, in effect, to sack the commissioner, he can only do so with the permission of the home secretary.

Mr Cleverly has written to the force, and to Mr Khan, about the incident.

A spokesperson for Mr Khan said the Met’s actions were “concerning” and that the force “must have the confidence of the communities they serve”.

In a statement, Mr Falter said: “Racists, extremists and terrorist sympathisers have watched the excuses and inertia of the Met under [Sir Mark’s] command and been emboldened by his inaction at precisely the moment when he should be signalling a renewed determination to crack down on this criminality.

“What the Met under Sir Mark has done to the Jewish community over the course of six months is utterly unforgivable and it is time for him to go. Enough is enough.”

Writing in The Sunday Telegraph, Ms Braverman claimed that people at the march whose behaviour was “flagrantly antisemitic” were being “waved on by the police”.

She said: “Either this is gross incompetence, or it’s a culture coming from the top, where thugs are free to intimidate and harass while the rest of us have to keep our mouths shut and stay out of the way.”

The Board of Deputies of British Jews has also written to Sir Mark asking for an “urgent meeting to reinforce the gravity of the situation” and to start repairing what it described as a “grievous loss of confidence” in the Met.

The commissioner said he “personally” reiterated the force’s apology.

On Friday, the Met apologised for the incident, suggesting that opponents of pro-Palestine marches “must know that their presence is provocative” and that they are “increasing the likelihood of an altercation” by lining the route to object.

The force then had to issue another statement apologising for the “further offence” caused by its first apology.

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