New PM focuses on police pledge following warning over Brexit

Boris Johnson has been warned of “disaster” by an influential Tory Eurosceptic unless he completes his mission to deliver Brexit on October 31.

The new Prime Minister was seeking to focus on a pledge to hire 20,000 extra police officers in an effort to show his administration would not only be about getting the UK out of the European Union.

But in a sign that the issue will still dominate, Mr Johnson suffered a setback as Steve Baker turned down an offer to join his Government because he feared being sidelined over Brexit policy.

Mr Baker, a senior figure in the European Research Group (ERG) of Tories, said he did not want a repeat of the “powerlessness” he felt as a junior Brexit minister under Theresa May, with the work all being done by the Cabinet Office.

He insisted he had “total confidence” in the Prime Minister to deliver on his commitment to meet the October 31 Brexit deadline, but in a sign that hardliners will force him to keep the pledge Mr Baker said: “Disaster awaits otherwise.”

In a further sign of the ERG’s stance, the group’s vice-chairman Mark Francois said it would oppose any attempt by Mr Johnson to bring back the deal thrashed out with Brussels, even if he succeeded in removing the Irish backstop – the most contentious element of the divorce deal.

He told the BBC’s Newsnight: “If there were any attempt to revive the Withdrawal Agreement, even without the backstop, the ERG would vote against it.”

Mr Francois said he believed Brussels would “blink” and agree to talks on a free trade deal instead.

Despite Mr Baker’s refusal to join his government, Mr Johnson filled a series of ministerial jobs outside the Cabinet, rewarding allies and removing MPs who would not sign up to his commitment to leave the EU on October 31 with or without a deal.

And in an effort to show he is acting on his Tory leadership campaign pledges, Mr Johnson announced that a drive to recruit extra police officers would begin in September.

The Prime Minister wants the process completed over the next three years.

“As I said on the steps of Downing Street this week, my job as Prime Minister is to make our streets safer,” Mr Johnson said.

“People want to see more officers in their neighbourhoods, protecting the public and cutting crime.

“I promised 20,000 extra officers and that recruitment will now start in earnest.”

He also set out plans to urgently review pilot schemes which make it easier for forces in England and Wales to carry out stop-and-search operations.

Mr Johnson and Home Secretary Priti Patel have also set out plans for a new national policing board.

The panel will be chaired by the Home Secretary and bring together key police leaders, holding them to account for meeting the 20,000 officers target and working on a national response to other issues.

Boris Johnson becomes PM
Home Secretary Priti Patel (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Ms Patel said: “Officers up and down the country put themselves in danger every day to keep us safe, they deserve our support.

“The rise we’ve seen in serious violence is deeply worrying. An additional 20,000 officers sends a clear message that we are committed to giving police the resources they need to tackle the scourge of crime.

“This is the start of a new relationship between the Government and the police working even more closely together to protect the public.”

But shadow police minister Louise Haigh said: “When it comes to policing, Boris Johnson simply cannot be trusted. He served in a government which promised to protect the police, then voted for brutal real-terms cuts.”

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