Home Secretary Suella Braverman has sparked a fresh row within the Conservative Party by accusing police of “playing favourites” with pro-Palestinian protesters, with the claim slapped down by a Cabinet colleague.
Rishi Sunak is facing calls from opposition parties to sack Mrs Braverman over the “irresponsible” and “divisive” remarks which they say fan the risk of unrest on Armistice Day.
In a Times article, the Home Secretary said aggressive right-wing protesters are met with a stern response by officers while “pro-Palestinian mobs” are “largely ignored, even when clearly breaking the law”.
The former chief inspector of constabulary Sir Tom Winsor said Mrs Braverman’s comment “crosses the line” by breaking the convention that a Home Secretary should not question the operational integrity of the police.
Questioned about Mrs Braverman’s claims of police bias, Transport Secretary Mark Harper directly contradicted her view.
“I think all police forces are focused on upholding the law without fear or favour,” he told Times Radio on Thursday.
Mrs Braverman doubled down on her characterisation of a protest planned for Armistice Day despite Government objections as a “hate” march, a description Mr Harper declined to endorse.
He evaded repeated questions on whether the Home Secretary’s language inflames tensions and adds to difficulties for the police, saying: “I think we’re all focused, and I think everyone in the Conservative Party and the Government is focused on trying to make sure that the events of the weekend pass off peacefully.”
Sir Tom was more forthcoming in his criticism, describing her intervention as “unusual” and “unprecedented”.
The ex-HM chief inspector of constabulary told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “It’s contrary to the spirit of the ancient constitutional settlement with the police, I think it’s contrary to the letter of that constitutional settlement. And it is highly regrettable that it has been made.
“These political objections can be made by many, many people, but a Home Secretary of all people is not the person to do this.”
He added: “By applying pressure to the commissioner of the Met in this way I think that crosses the line.”
Prime Minister Mr Sunak on Wednesday hauled in Metropolitan Police chief Sir Mark Rowley for an emergency meeting about the march planned in London, saying he would hold the Scotland Yard boss “accountable” if there was trouble.
Sir Mark has faced pressure from senior Tories to ban Saturday’s march in London, but has said the law would only allow him to do so in “extreme cases”.
Following their talks on Wednesday, Mr Sunak said the planned protest on Armistice Day is “not just disrespectful but offends our heartfelt gratitude to the memory of those who gave so much so that we may live in freedom and peace today” and “part of that freedom is the right to peacefully protest”.
But writing in The Times, Mrs Braverman said: “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. Also disturbingly reminiscent of Ulster are the reports that some of Saturday’s march group organisers have links to terrorist groups, including Hamas.”
Mrs Braverman claimed “there is a perception that senior police officers play favourites when it comes to protesters”.
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.”
Mrs Braverman’s article is her latest high-profile intervention, with ministers in recent days seeking to distance themselves from her claims some people were homeless as a “lifestyle choice”.
Mr Sunak’s meeting with Sir Mark had appeared to ease some of the tension between the Government and the Met, before Mrs Braverman’s broadside.
Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey urged the Prime Minister to sack Mrs Braverman over her “shameful” comments.
He said: “Rishi Sunak must finally act with integrity by sacking his out-of-control Home Secretary.
“Suella Braverman is now putting police officers in harm’s way ahead of far-right protesters flocking to the capital this weekend.
“The Home Secretary’s irresponsible words and foul actions have significantly increased the likelihood of unrest this weekend and the risk of violence towards officers.”
Labour’s shadow business secretary Jonathan Reynolds told Sky News: “We have to find out today from the Prime Minister did he sign off? Did he agree to this? And if not, is he too weak to sack her?
“If you have a Home Secretary that is so out of control, so divisive, so inflammatory, undermining the police and, therefore, the national security and safety of the public, that’s not someone who should be Home Secretary.”
No 10 has not said whether it signed off on the Home Secretary’s article.