Minister backs Met Commissioner after calls for him to quit over protest row

The head of the Metropolitan Police should not resign over the force’s handling of pro-Palestinian protests, a Cabinet minister has said, amid calls for Sir Mark Rowley to go.

Both the Campaign Against Antisemitism (CAA) and former home secretary Suella Braverman have called for the police chief to resign or be sacked, accusing him of having “emboldened” antisemites.

But Energy Security Secretary Claire Coutinho declined to join them.

She told the BBC: “I personally wouldn’t go that far because I haven’t had the conversations with him.”

Cabinet meeting
Energy Security Secretary Claire Coutinho said Sir Mark Rowley’s future is a matter for London Mayor Sadiq Khan (James Manning/PA)

Earlier, she told Sky News that Sir Mark’s future is a matter for London Mayor Sadiq Khan “who has the responsibility to hold the Met to account”.

Mr Khan does have the power to effectively sack the Commissioner, but can only do so with the permission of the Home Secretary, who can also require the Mayor to dismiss the head of the Met.

Ms Coutinho’s comments follow calls for Sir Mark to quit after CAA chief executive Gideon Falter was threatened with arrest near a pro-Palestine protest on April 13, with one police officer describing him as “openly Jewish”.

Another officer told Mr Falter he would be arrested if he did not leave the area because he was “causing a breach of peace with all these other people” and his presence was “antagonising”.

A spokesman for Mr Khan said the Met’s handling of the incident was “concerning” and that the force “must have the confidence of the communities they serve”.

Climate action plan for London
London Mayor Sadiq Khan said the Met’s handling of an incident involving Gideon Falter was ‘concerning’ (Victoria Jones/PA)

In a statement, Mr Falter said: “Racists, extremists and terrorist sympathisers have watched the excuses and inertia of the Met under his (Sir Mark’s) command and been emboldened by his inaction at precisely the moment when he should be signalling a renewed determination to crack down on this criminality.

“What the Met under Sir Mark has done to the Jewish community over the course of six months is utterly unforgivable and it is time for him to go. Enough is enough.”

Ms Braverman used an opinion piece in the Sunday Telegraph to demand Sir Mark’s resignation, saying people who are “flagrantly antisemitic” are being “waved on by the police”.

She said: “Either this is gross incompetence, or it’s a culture coming from the top, where thugs are free to intimidate and harass while the rest of us have to keep our mouths shut and stay out of the way.”

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Former home secretary Suella Braverman said ‘flagrantly antisemitic’ protesters are being ‘waved on’ by the Metropolitan Police (Jeff Moore/PA)

Other figures, including Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden, have been highly critical of the Met but stopped short of saying Sir Mark should go.

Policing minister Chris Philp has said he will meet the Commissioner to discuss the matter, and the Board of Deputies of British Jews has also written to Sir Mark asking for an “urgent meeting to reinforce the gravity of the situation” and start repairing a “grievous loss of confidence” in the Met.

Home Secretary James Cleverly has also written to the force and Mr Khan about the incident.

Shadow justice secretary Shabana Mahmood said she does not think getting rid of Sir Mark is “the way forward”.

She told the BBC’s Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg: “I think the police should take all steps to maintain community confidence from all communities in the way that they go about their business on the streets of London and elsewhere.”

Sir Mark said: “Every member of the Met is determined to ensure that London is a city in which everyone feels safe.

“We absolutely understand how vulnerable Jewish and Muslim Londoners feel since the terrorist attacks on Israel.

“Some of our actions have increased this concern. I personally reiterate our apology from earlier this week.

“Today, as with every other day, our officers will continue to police with courage, empathy and impartiality.”

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Gideon Falter was told he would be arrested if he did not leave the vicinity of a pro-Palestine protest (Campaign Against Antisemitism/PA)

The Met apologised on Friday for the incident involving Mr Falter, suggesting opponents of pro-Palestinian marches “must know that their presence is provocative” and they are “increasing the likelihood of an altercation” by lining the route to object.

But the force subsequently issued another statement apologising for the “further offence” caused by its first apology.

A Home Office spokesman said: “We welcome the Met Police’s apology, and recognise the complexities of policing fast-moving public protests, but simply being Jewish – or of any other race or religion – should never be seen as provocative.

“Anyone of any religion should be free to go about their lives and feel safe doing so.”