Suella Braverman accuses Met of ‘double standard’ in policing protests

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Suella Braverman, UK home secretary, has provoked a storm of criticism after she attacked a “double standard” by the Metropolitan Police in the way it handles protests, notably this weekend’s pro-Palestinian demonstration.

Braverman claimed in an article in The Times that senior police officers “play favourites” when it comes to protesters, taking a tougher stance with rightwing demonstrations.

Her comments, the latest in a line of highly controversial statements, were condemned by Labour and are causing growing unease among senior Conservatives.

Yvette Cooper, shadow home secretary, said Braverman was “out of control”, while Tory MPs believed the minister was taking hardline positions to bolster her position in a future Conservative leadership contest.

One minister told the Financial Times: “She is clumsy with language and misrepresents complexity to achieve what she thinks is a headline to generate support with a narrow cadre of ignorant people.

“This is deeply flawed and not the way to influence Met behaviour nor enhance the overall reputation of the government.”

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Braverman’s article reflected her frustration with Sir Mark Rowley, Met Police commissioner, who has refused to bow to political pressure to ban the proposed pro-Palestinian march on Saturday.

Rowley, who met Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Wednesday, has argued there are no legal grounds to ban the march. Sunak and Braverman claim it is disrespectful because it will take place on Armistice Day.

“Unfortunately, there is a perception that senior police officers play favourites when it comes to protesters,” Braverman wrote.

“During Covid, why was it that lockdown objectors were given no quarter by public order police yet Black Lives Matters [sic] demonstrators were enabled, allowed to break rules and even greeted with officers taking the knee?

“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.”

Downing Street declined to say whether it had authorised the article, though Braverman’s allies told the Financial Times it had been shown to Number 10 before publication.

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Government ministers routinely refuse to echo words used by Braverman, who has talked about mass migration being a “hurricane” and described people sleeping rough on the streets as making a “lifestyle choice”.

In her article Braverman said former police officers had “noted this double standard” in the policing of mass gatherings, adding that “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”.

Braverman also compared what she called pro-Palestinian “hate marches” with sectarian marches in Northern Ireland.

She compared what she described as the “hate marchers” participating in weekly pro-Palestinian protests to sectarian groups that held rallies in Northern Ireland during the Troubles.

Cooper wrote on the social media platform X: “Suella Braverman is out of control. Her article tonight is a highly irresponsible, dangerous attempt to undermine respect for police at a sensitive time, to rip up operational independence & to inflame community tensions. No other Home Secretary of any party would ever do this.”

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Sadiq Khan, London’s Labour mayor, said: “No one disputes that Remembrance events must be protected, but the policing of protests are operational decisions for the Met, not the Home Secretary. The government should be supporting the Met and our hard-working officers, not making their job more difficult.”

Braverman’s comments may chime with a section of the electorate that the Conservatives need to woo ahead of the election, but Sunak will come under pressure on Thursday to say if he agrees with his home secretary.

Some Tory MPs believe Braverman is pushing her language to the point where Sunak will feel compelled to sack her, allowing her to pursue her leadership ambitions without any restraint from the backbenches.