By a Newsnet reporter
The recently appointed Chief Whip of the Conservative Party, Andrew Mitchell MP (pictured at right), is coming under increasing pressure to resign after reportedly verbally abusing a police officer guarding Downing Street. According to the Sun newspaper, Mr Mitchell called the officer “a f*****g pleb” and demanded that he “learn his place”, after the officer requested that Mr Mitchell exited Downing St via a pedestrian side entrance and not the main gate.
The Sun reported that in an obscenity laden tirade, Mr Mitchell yelled at the officer:
“Best you learn your f*****g place. You don’t run this f*****g government. You’re f*****g plebs.”
Although Mr Mitchell, who was shadow police minister while the Conservatives were in opposition, has apologised for not treating officers with due respect he has denied using the language reported. However police claim that at least two officers who were present at the incident heard the Tory Whip’s outburst. The police stand by their version of events.
The Sutton Coldfield MP and former banker said in a statement:
“On Wednesday night I attempted to leave Downing Street via the main gate, something I have been allowed to do many times before.
“I was told that I was not allowed to leave that way. While I do not accept that I used any of the words that have been reported, I accept I did not treat the police with the respect they deserve.
“I have seen the supervising sergeant and apologised, and will also apologise to the police officer involved.”
Opposition politicians have said Mr Mitchell’s denial means he was either accusing the officer of lying, or he himself must be dissembling and did indeed use foul language against the officer, potentially an arrestable offence.
Speaking to Channel 4 news on Friday evening, John Tully, chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation, said Mr Mitchell was warned about his behaviour by officers at the time of the incident and was likely to have been arrested if he had continued. Mr Tully said:
“There is a written record of the incident in the officers’ notebooks. I understand that following his tirade to the officers he was warned and he desisted. I think had he continued he would have been arrested.”
“[Mr Mitchell] should resign. As a cabinet minister, it’s unacceptable for someone of his standing to use such disrespectful and abusive language to a police constable, let alone anyone else. If the shoe was on the other foot and my officer had said those things he’d be out of a job now. It’s double standards.”
Paul McKeever, the chairman of the Police Federation, also called on Mr Mitchell to resign, saying it was “hard to fathom how someone who holds the police in such contempt could be allowed to hold a public office”.
Mr McKeever added: “Mr Mitchell’s half-hearted apology for the comments made whilst leaving Downing Street will do little to build bridges with the police, who feel they have once again been treated with a lack of respect and civility by members of this government.
Now the president of the Conservative’s Coalition allies has added his voice to those demanding that Mr Mitchell resign.
Tim Farron, the Liberal Democrat president, told the BBC in an interview:
“If he said what it is reported he said, it is absolutely appalling.
“All of us can have grouchy moments and say things we regret but it reveals, what he is reported to have said, something not terribly pleasant. It is David Cameron’s job to discipline his minister in the same way that if it was the Liberal Democrat chief whip, who I am sure would never do a thing like this, it would be Nick Clegg’s job.
“But certainly the comments reported are utterly, indeed beyond, unacceptable.”
Conservative colleagues have also condemned Mr Mitchell’s rant. Speaking on the BBC Newsnight programme, Tory MP Peter Bone said that Mr Mitchell’s outburst gave credence to critics of the government who claim that the Conservatives are full of “arrogant posh boys”.
However other Conservatives were less inclined to criticise their colleague. Last year London Mayor Boris Johnson stated that anyone who swore at a police officer who was carrying out his or her duty should be arrested. Asked if Mr Johnson stood by comments, the Mayor’s official spokesman said: “Yes, he does.”
However when asked if this meant that Mr Mitchell should resign, the spokesman said:
“That is not a matter for the Mayor, it is a matter for the Prime Minister and Mr Mitchell.”
Conservative Minister and former Home Secretary Kenneth Clark defended Mr Mitchell, saying:
“I have known Andrew for a long time and he is a perfectly reasonable, courteous man with the same high regard for the police services as anyone else.
“He obviously had a flare of bad temper on this occasion and has rightly apologised. I do think this should be allowed to set the matter at rest.”
Prime Minister David Cameron has condemned Mr Mitchell’s behaviour as “wrong” and “inappropriate”, but refused to answer questions about whether he planned to sack Mr Mitchell, who was appointed Chief Whip during Mr Cameron’s government reshuffle earlier this month.