Suella Braverman’s incendiary claim that the police have been treating far-right extremists more harshly than pro-Palestinian “mobs” has been dismissed by a cabinet colleague and condemned by the mayor of London for raising the risk of violence.
The decision by the Met police commissioner, Sir Mark Rowley, on Tuesday that there were insufficient grounds to ban a pro-Palestinian march on Armistice Day prompted the home secretary to make a series of damning accusations against police “double standards”.
She claimed in an article in the Times published on Wednesday evening that unnamed police chiefs appeared to care more about avoiding “flak” than ensuring public safety. “Unfortunately, there is a perception that senior police officers play favourites when it comes to protesters,” she wrote.
Speaking on Thursday morning, the transport secretary, Mark Harper, suggested he did not agree the police were biased.
“I think all police forces are focused on upholding the law without fear or favour,” he said. “That’s what they do.”
Asked whether he agreed with the home secretary’s wider point, he said: “I’m not going to indulge in textual analysis of her article,” adding that the police were “focusing very hard on making sure that we don’t see any disturbance and disorder” at remembrance events this weekend.
Sadiq Khan, who, as the mayor of London, has a role alongside the home secretary in appointing and overseeing the role of the Met police commissioner, said Braverman’s comments made it more likely that the far right would seek to clash with the march on Saturday.
“I think it’s not appropriate for us to be actively and publicly intervening and influencing operational policing decisions,” Khan said. “I’ve read with care the home secretary’s article in the Times. It is irresponsible. It stokes divisions and is in danger of dividing communities; it reinforces stereotypes, it makes sweeping generalisations.
“Are we really saying the politicians, whether it’s the home secretary, or myself, or the prime minister, should be telling the police which protests to allow and disallow? What’s next, telling the police who to investigate, who to arrest? We should be really careful.”
He added: “There are some amongst us who try to sow division – the far right are now organising for Armistice Day. They do encourage violence, they are anti-Islamic … The job of the politicians like the home secretary, myself and the prime minister is to support the police in doing their jobs but also to address people’s fears rather than playing on them. The home secretary is playing on the fears of the Jewish community rather than addressing them.”
Sir Tom Winsor, a former HM chief inspector of constabulary, said Braverman’s “unprecedented” comments had crossed the line.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “It’s unusual. It’s unprecedented. 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.”
Winsor added: “By applying pressure to the commissioner of the Met in this way I think that crosses the line.”
Responding to an urgent question in the House of Commons from Labour, which has called on Braverman to be sacked, the policing minister Chris Philp said the police retained the confidence of the government. He told MPs that he did not know if the content of the home secretary’s article had been approved by Downing Street.
In her article, Braverman claimed the recent marches, which have brought hundreds of thousands of people on to the streets of London, were an unchallenged “assertion of primacy by certain groups – particularly Islamists”.
She wrote: “During Covid, why was it that lockdown objectors were given no quarter by public order police yet Black Lives Matters demonstrators were enabled, allowed to break rules and even greeted with officers taking the knee?
“Rightwing 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? I have spoken to serving and former police officers who have noted this double standard.
“Football fans are even more vocal about the tough way they are policed as compared to politically connected minority groups who are favoured by the left.
“It may be that senior officers are more concerned with how much flak they are likely to get than whether this perceived unfairness alienates the majority. The government has a duty to take a broader view.”
On Tuesday, defying days of heavy political pressure, Rowley said there were insufficient grounds for him to ban Saturday’s pro-Palestine march under section 13 of the 1986 Public Order Act.
The last group to have a ban imposed upon one of its planned marches was the far-right English Defence League.