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UK's Sunak urged to sack minister over police accusation

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09 November 2023

London (AFP) -

UK interior minister Suella Braverman's job was hanging in the balance Thursday after she criticised policing of pro-Palestinian marches in comments made without Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's approval.

Sunak is facing mounting calls to sack Braverman after she suggested officers 'play favourites' when policing protests and claimed they largely ignored 'pro-Palestinian mobs' during recent demonstrations against the Israel-Hamas war.

The comments, seen as red meat to the right wing of the governing Conservative party, come after she described the rallies calling for a ceasefire in Gaza as 'hate marches', days after claiming some people were homeless as a 'lifestyle choice'.

Downing Street insisted it had full confidence in Braverman but said it was investigating how her comments in an opinion piece in The Times were published without its consent, as required by the ministerial code.

'The content was not agreed with Number 10,' a spokesman for Sunak told reporters, referring to the Prime Minister's Downing Street office.

According to people familiar with the matter, the speech was sent to Sunak's office, which requested changes that were not made.

Braverman's words have heightened speculation she is positioning herself for a future Tory leadership contest or that they are a deliberate ploy by Sunak's party to appeal to right-wingers before the next general election.

Sunak has described a planned pro-Palestinian march in London on Saturday -- Armistice Day, when Britain honours its war dead -- as 'provocative and disrespectful' and suggested London's Metropolitan Police ban it.

Police have said the march does not meet the legal threshold for requesting a government order to stop it.

- Scathing -

Tensions between London's Met Police and Sunak appeared to ease on Wednesday after an emergency meeting at which the force's chief, Mark Rowley, confirmed the march would not clash with remembrance events for the country's war dead.

But Braverman's article was scathing about the Met's policing.

'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,' she wrote.

The outspoken Braverman added she did not believe the protests were 'merely a cry for help for Gaza' but were more an 'assertion of primacy by certain groups -- particularly Islamists'.

Tom Winsor, a former police watchdog chief, said the home secretary's claim that the police were softer on left-wing groups went too far and were contrary to the principle of police independence.

- 'Crosses the line' -

'By applying pressure to the commissioner of the Met in this way, I think that crosses the line,' Winsor told BBC radio.

Opposition MPs called on Sunak to immediately replace Braverman, but a spokeswoman for the PM told reporters that there was no 'timescale' on the inquiry.

The leader of the main opposition Labour Party, Keir Starmer, said Braverman was 'out of control' and Sunak was 'too weak to do anything about it'.

London has seen large demonstrations on four successive weekends since the Hamas attacks in southern Israel on October 7, which Israel says left 1,400 people dead, mostly civilians. They also took 240 hostages.

Since then, Israel has relentlessly bombarded Gaza and sent in ground troops. The Palestinian territory's Hamas-run health ministry says more than 10,000 people have been killed.

The Met police have made almost 200 arrests since the Hamas attacks, either for hate crimes or incidents linked to the protests, while anti-Semitism cases have surged.

Braverman's fondness for stoking culture wars may prove useful to the Tories as they try to overhaul huge deficits to Labour in opinion polls before an election that must be held by January 2025.

Braverman, whose Indian-origin parents emigrated to Britain in the 1960s, recently described multiculturalism as a 'misguided dogma'.

She has attacked the United Nations Refugee Convention and warned that Britain faces a 'hurricane' of immigration, and once called liberals 'tofu-eating wokerati'.