Theresa May refuses to criticise police for warning journalists not to publish Kim Darroch leaks

Both Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt attacked threat of media prosecutions – but the prime minister ‘won’t comment’

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Monday 15 July 2019 20:23 BST

Theresa May has refused to criticise the Metropolitan Police for its controversial warning to journalists not to publish Kim Darroch‘s leaked criticisms of Donald Trump.

Both Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt, the two candidates for No 10, have attacked the threat of possible prosecutions of the media – but the prime minister’s spokesperson insisted she would not comment.

The spokesperson also declined to back The Mail on Sunday’s decision to publish the diplomat’s top-secret communications, because there was an “ongoing investigation”.

The Met was forced to issue a second statement over the weekend after the furore that greeted its warning that publication of the cables could constitute a criminal offence.

Mr Johnson condemned the “chilling effect on public debate” – while Mr Hunt said: “I defend to the hilt the right of the press to publish those leaks.”

But, asked if Ms May had similar criticisms, her spokesperson replied: “The Metropolitan Police has issued two statements and both are a matter for them. I won’t comment on either.”

Asked if she was committed to press freedom, he replied: “A free press is one of the foundations on which our democracy rests.”

Neil Basu, the Met’s assistant commissioner, caused the storm late on Friday by criticising publication of the cables “now knowing they may be a breach of the OSA” [Official Secrets Act].

He said: “The publication of leaked communications, knowing the damage they have caused or are likely to cause, may also be a criminal matter.”

A later statement rowed back, by insisting “the focus of the investigation” was on the leaker, but continued to insist publication risked committing “a criminal offence”.

David Davis, the former Brexit secretary, called for Mr Basu to be stripped of his role in the investigation and replaced by an officer who puts a free press before “the state’s reputation”.

Sir Kim resigned as US ambassador last week, saying his position had become “impossible” following the leak of diplomatic cables in which he Mr Trump’s White House as “inept” and “dysfunctional”.

The Mail on Sunday ignored the Met’s warning by releasing another cable from May 2018 suggesting Mr Trump had pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal in an act of spite against Barack Obama.

The prime minister’s spokesperson said: “The leak was completely unacceptable and the person who leaked the documents should now face the consequences.

“I’m not going to comment on an ongoing investigation and it’s important that the police are now able to get on with their work.”

He added: “On press freedom, the prime minister’s views are very well known – as she has said, a free press is one of the foundations on which our democracy rests.”

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