Criticism grows over Johnson’s use of police for political speech | Politics | The Guardian6 Settembre 2019
Prime minister accused of abusing impartiality of officers by using them as backdrop
Boris Johnson is facing mounting criticism that he abused the impartiality of police officers after he used them as a backdrop for a political speech.
The prime minister’s speech on Thursday at a police training college in Wakefield, West Yorkshire, was meant to highlight the government’s commitment to returning 20,000 officers to the streets. But it will be remembered for his sometimes rambling remarks about Brexit and the prospects of an election, and the moment when an officer behind him had to sit down after feeling faint.
The shadow policing minister, Louise Haigh, has written to the Cabinet Office asking why the police were used for a highly political speech.
She pointed out that, by his own admission, Johnson’s speech was party political.
Haigh wrote: “Not only was the precious time of these officers wasted, either by diverting them from their duties or depriving them of much-needed rest, but through no fault of their own they were put in an intolerable position by the nakedly party-political direction the event took.”
She added: “Police regulations are clear that they are strictly non-party political and cannot give the perception of such.”
She demanded specific answers on whether senior advisers or civil servants set up the event, whether West Yorkshire’s chief constable was told the content of the speech would stray beyond police recruitment, and how many serving officers had rest days cancelled or duties changed as a result of the event.
The Labour MP Barry Sheerman drew a parallel with the way Donald Trump uses police officers as a backdrop for his political speeches.
The Police Federation of England and Wales also criticised the event. “I am surprised that police officers were used as a backdrop for a political speech in this way,” said John Apter, the organisation’s national chair. “I am sure that on reflection all concerned will agree that this was the wrong decision and it is disappointing that the focus has been taken away from the recruitment of 20,000 officers. This is what we should be talking about – this is what is important.”
The West Yorkshire police and crime commissioner, Mark Burns-Williamson, called on Johnson to apologise. “To use police officers as the backdrop to what became a political speech was inappropriate and they shouldn’t have been put in that position.
“It clearly turned into a rant about Brexit, the opposition and a potential general election. There’s no way that police officers should have formed the backdrop to a speech of that nature.”
Burns-Williamson said he had expressed his concerns to the chief constable of West Yorkshire police and asked for an explanation.
West Yorkshire police said: “This was a pre-arranged visit by the prime minister and home secretary to announce the launch of the recruitment campaign for an extra 20,000 new police officers. The launch in West Yorkshire was in conjunction with a Home Office request and Martin Hewitt, chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council was also present.”
The force’s chief constable, John Robins, said: “West Yorkshire police has some of the best training facilities in the country and I am pleased that we were chosen as the focal point of the national recruitment campaign. With the recruitment of these officers over the next few years, we are in a better position to now deliver the service that the public deserve and expect.”
The prime minister, who will try again on Monday to seek a general election through a vote in parliament, said there was “a clear choice for the country” between his vow to leave the EU by 31 October and Labour’s plans.
Yvette Cooper, the chair of the home affairs select committee, said: “For Boris Johnson to make so many police stop their training and work to be part of his political stunt is an abuse of power. Police officers and trainees are overstretched and need to be able to get on with their job, not have to waste time listening to Boris Johnson’s political press conference.”
Her fellow committee member and Labour MP Stephen Doughty said the speech appeared to be a “blatant attempt to politicise our brilliant police” before an election campaign, adding: “They are not political props.”
The Liberal Democrat Brexit spokesman, Tom Brake, said he had referred the incident to the head of the civil service, Sir Mark Sedwill.
Towards the end of his speech, an officer immediately behind Johnson appeared to feel faint. The prime minister turned to see what was happening and appeared ready to draw to a close, but then continued speaking for several minutes.
Much of the speech involved Johnson urging an election. “I hate banging on about Brexit. I don’t want to go on about this any more,” he said. “I don’t want an election at all, but frankly I cannot see any other way. The only way to get this thing done, to get this thing moving, is to make that decision.”