Home Secretary Suella Braverman’s latest comments suggesting the police ‘play favourites’ with protests draw stark criticism, writes Bremain Chair Sue Wilson MBE for Yorkshire Bylines.
On Thursday 9 November, The Times published an article by the home secretary entitled, ‘Suella Braverman brands Met police biased over pro-Palestinian protest’. The much-criticised article came after days of media speculation regarding a planned march in London this weekend.
Initially, there were concerns that the march would interfere with the Remembrance Day service at the Cenotaph on Sunday. But it soon became clear, to any with their eyes and their hearts open, that the two events were on different days and in different parts of London, so one was unlikely to interfere with the other. The article seems to have been in direct response to Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley’s comments a day earlier that there were insufficient grounds to ban this weekend’s march.
Home Secretary Suella Braverman repeats her assertion that pro-Palestinian protestors are “hate marchers” and accuses police of showing “favouritism”.
1. Did PM sanction this?
2. Can he tolerate a rival leadership campaign in plain sight?https://t.co/BkMiCgouzv
— Paul Brand (@PaulBrandITV) November 8, 2023
In her article, Braverman asks the question, “are some public displays so offensive that they deserve to be banned?” Clearly, she believes the answer to be yes, and that doesn’t apply just to marches. In fact, the list of things that the home secretary finds offensive is a long one, including, not least, the homeless and asylum seekers. What’s worse is she claims to speak on behalf of the “compassionate” British public.
According to the home secretary, the pro-Palestinian movement “has mobilised tens of thousands of angry demonstrators and marched them through London every weekend”. She refuted the claim that the marches were a “cry for help for Gaza” and even accused the march group’s organisers of having links to terrorist organisations, including Hamas. She again used the term “hate marchers”, adding that she did not “resile” from the term
Braverman: police ‘playing favourites’
Braverman suggested these events were problematic, not because of the “violence around the fringes” but because of “the highly offensive content of chants, posters and stickers”. She believes “there is a perception that senior police officers play favourites when it comes to protestors”, with the police favouring the left. A claim that Mr. Stop Brexit, Steve Bray, would no doubt dispute most vigorously. She suggested that aggressive right-wing protestors are met with a “stern response” from the police, while their left-wing counterparts are “largely ignored” when displaying the same behaviour. Senior former and serving officers agreed with her that there was a “double standard”, she claimed, though not enough for any of them to have been quoted directly, it would seem.
Strong criticism from Labour
Shadow Home Secretary, Yvette Cooper, didn’t mince her words. She accused the home secretary of “attacking police impartiality” and “deliberately undermining respect for the police”. Braverman was “deliberately inflaming community tensions in the most dangerous of ways”, and was attacking the police at a time when she should be supporting them.
Cooper described Braverman’s comments as “highly irresponsible and dangerous”, and said that many former police chiefs were lining up to condemn her. She asked if the government “still believe in the operational independence of the police” and questioned whether the prime minister had endorsed the article. If he had done so, or was too weak to sack Braverman, then he had “given up”, and both the prime minister and the home secretary should go.
Chris Bryant described Suella Braverman as “a danger”, adding that her article “imperils good policing” and “inflames an already difficult situation”. He pointed out that only two Conservative MPs spoke in the House of Commons in defence of the home secretary, and only a handful were in attendance. He said not only was there no place for hate on our streets, but there was no place for hate in the Home Office either. The home secretary was trying to “command the police” and was “inciting hatred”.
Shadow Leader of the House, Lucy Powell, called the home secretary “out of control”, “utterly irresponsible” and “unhinged”. Cooper also critici
Chris Bryant; The fact that only 2 Tory MPs turned up to defend Suella Braverman… shows she's already lost the support of the house.. there's no place for hate in the HO.. she's trying to command the police & that completely breaches.. the operational independence of the police pic.twitter.com/EAalO7vDMf
— Haggis_UK 🇬🇧 🇪🇺 (@Haggis_UK) November 9, 2023
What did Downing Street know?
After much speculation on social media, regarding whether the prime minister had endorsed, or even seen, the Times article ahead of publication, Number 10 were forced to issue a statement. Downing Street had not signed off on the content, despite claims from Braverman’s aides to the contrary. Policing Minister, Chris Philps, when asked if Downing Street had approved the article said, “I’m afraid I don’t have any visibility on that at all”. No change there, then.
In fact, Number 10 had reviewed the content – even suggesting “major changes” – but it would appear those suggestions were ignored. The Downing Street response was then quickly followed by suggestions that Braverman was perhaps – not for the first time – in breach of the ministerial code. A Number 10 spokesperson confirmed that “the content was not agreed” and that the matter was being looked into. The ministerial code clearly states that the policy content and timing of all major press releases, interviews and appearances should be cleared by Number 10 “to ensure the effective coordination of cabinet business”.
No doubt there will be calls for Braverman’s resignation from the Home Office. Again. Even Sunak’s misguided predecessor had the temerity to fire the home secretary during her short reign in Number 10. Of course, it is possible, as many – including Cooper – have suggested, that this is exactly what Braverman wants, so she can openly campaign to be the next leader of the Conservatives/the next prime minister. Though its hard to see how that might look any different from what she’s doing right now.
The home secretary closed her article with, “the public will expect to see an assertive and proactive approach to any displays of hate, breaches of conditions and general disorder”. Perhaps, in the interests of free speech, democracy and tolerance, the police might like to start with the home secretary herself. Surely Braverman has done more to incite hatred, violence and division that any protestor on the streets of London.