Dame Priti Patel told the Covid inquiry yesterday that it is vital to respect the “operational independence” of the police.
Patel, who served as home secretary from 2019 to 2022, said that throughout the pandemic she felt the need to remind her cabinet colleagues “of the role of policing”.
She said that “as politicians” it is vital to respect the operational independence of the police.
“We as politicians are not there to dictate directly to the police as to when to arrest people and enforce the law”, she told the inquiry.
The comments will likely be interpreted as coded criticism of her successor as home secretary, Suella Braverman.
Braverman has been accused of undermining serving police officers after claiming far-right protesters have been treated more harshly than pro-Palestinian supporters.
In an article for the Times, Braverman accused the force of applying a “double standard” to its policing of protests.
She claimed aggressive right-wing protesters were “rightly met with a stern response”, while “pro-Palestinian mobs” were “largely ignored”.
The article also said that the marches were not “merely a cry for help for Gaza”, but an “assertion of primacy by certain groups of the kind we are more used to seeing in Northern Ireland”.
Metropolitan police commissioner, Sir Mark Rowley had said there were insufficient grounds for him to ban Saturday’s pro-Palestine march under section 13 of the 1986 Public Order Act.
Nickie Aiken, the Conservative Party deputy chair and MP for the constituency that includes the Cenotaph, criticised Braverman’s comments.
“The police should never be involved in politics and politicians should never get involved in policing operations. The police must police without fear or favour and it is a very dangerous precedent to state otherwise”, she said.
Priti Patel has previously criticised her successor over her comments on multiculturalism. She has said that Braverman‘s claim that “multiculturalism has failed” may have been made “to get attention”.
She told Sky News that the UK should be “proud” of the “dynamic communities” in the UK, and making such interventions were “not a substitute for delivery” on government policies.
The Labour leader, Keir Starmer, has claimed that Braverman was “out of control” and stoking division.
In an urgent question to the House of Commons yesterday, shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper told MPs: “We have seen her words this morning, attempting to rip up the operational independence of the police, attacking their impartiality in the crudest and most partisan of ways, deliberately undermining respect for the police at a sensitive time when they have an important job to do.
“Does this government still believe in the operational independence of the police, and how can it do so while this home secretary is in post, and did the prime minister and No 10 agree to the content of this article?
“Because either the prime minister has endorsed this or he’s too weak to sack her.”
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has said: “Are we really saying the politicians, whether it’s the home secretary, or myself, or the prime minister, should be telling the police which protests to allow and disallow? What’s next? Telling the police who to investigate, who to arrest? We should be really careful.”