Rishi Sunak ‘appalled’ by Met as Downing Street fails to back Rowley

Gideon Falter speaks to a Metropolitan Police during a pro-Palestinian march in London last weekend
Gideon Falter speaks to a Metropolitan Police during a pro-Palestinian march in London last weekend - Campaign Against Antisemitism/PA

Downing Street has failed to back the boss of the Metropolitan Police and has said Rishi Sunak is “appalled” by the force’s threat to arrest a Jewish man at a pro-Palestine rally.

A government source said: “The PM has seen the footage and is as appalled as everyone else by the officer calling Mr Falter ‘openly Jewish’.

“He expects the Met Commissioner to account for how it happened and what he will do to ensure officers do more to make Jewish communities in London feel safe.”

The Telegraph understands Mr Sunak does not intend to get personally involved in the decision on Sir Mark’s future, which he will leave to James Cleverly, the Home Secretary. He is said to feel that it is not his place to intervene in what is an official process that should also involve Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London.

That stance explains his reluctance to publicly back Sir Mark, in contrast to previous governments which have swung in behind commissioners under fire. Boris Johnson’s administration repeatedly expressed “full confidence” in Sir Mark’s predecessor, Dame Cressida Dick, as she faced calls to resign in 2021.

Claire Coutinho, one of the Prime Minister’s closest allies, also conspicuously refused to say that Sir Mark should stay in his post when grilled by broadcasters on Sunday.

The Met Commissioner is under huge pressure and has already faced high-profile calls to resign over the incident, including from Suella Braverman, the former home secretary.

It comes after Gideon Falter, the head of the Campaign Against Antisemitism, was stopped by police as he tried to cross the road in the Aldwych area of central London while a pro-Palestinian march went past last Saturday.

Mr Falter, who had just come from the synagogue and was wearing a kippah skullcap and carrying a bag containing his prayer shawl, was told by a Met Police sergeant at the scene his presence could inflame tensions.

In the exchange, which was filmed, the officer can be heard saying to him: “You are quite openly Jewish. This is a pro-Palestinian march. I am not accusing you of anything but I am worried about the reaction to your presence.”

Mr Falter said he was approached in a similar way later by another officer, and the Met later apologised branding the comments “hugely regrettable”.

Oliver Dowden has suggested the incident was “disrepecting” Jews. The Deputy Prime Minister told The Telegraph: “The police have a hugely difficult job and we should all acknowledge that but it is hard to think of any other minority that would be treated as disrespectfully as Jews seem to be.

“Jews deserve solidarity not indifference from London’s Mayor. He should be ensuring fundamental British values of decency, tolerance and respect are championed, cherished and protected in our capital city.”

Ms Coutinho, the Energy Secretary, said the Met’s behaviour was “completely wrong” and warned the situation for Jews in London was not “sustainable”. She said it was right that “action is taken” following the incident. She also failed to endorse Sir Mark.

Claire Coutinho, the Energy Secretary
Claire Coutinho, the Energy Secretary, failed to endorse Sir Mark Rowley, the Met Commissioner - Karl Black/Alamy

Asked if the Met chief should resign, she told the BBC’s Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg: “I personally wouldn’t go that far because I haven’t had the conversations with him. I don’t understand yet what he’s going to say to the Home Secretary – those conversations need to take place.”

Speaking to Sunday Morning with Trevor Phillips, on Sky News, she said it was up to Mr Khan to decide what happens next. Sir Mark has been summoned to a meeting with Chris Philp, the Policing Minister. The Home Secretary has written to both the Met and the Mayor about the incident.

On the question of resignation of the Met chief, Ms Coutinho said: “I think what happened was completely wrong. It’s not right that one group of people in society should be told that they can’t go around their daily lives because it might be a provocation to someone else. That’s not how equality works in this country.

“So I do think they’ve got it wrong. I think it’s right that they’ve apologised and ultimately what happens next is a matter for the Labour London Mayor, who has the responsibility to hold the Met to account.”

The Board of Deputies of British Jews has also called for urgent talks with the Met Commissioner after “a series of high-profile errors”. The organisation said: “The entirely avoidable mistakes have had a devastating effect on the previously high level of trust held by the UK’s Jewish community in the police.”

All communities ‘must be able to trust the police’

Ms Countinho stressed it was “really important” that people from all communities felt like they could trust the police, adding: “I think when you’ve had a situation like this it’s right that action is taken because you can’t have a position where one group of people, one identity, the Jewish community, in this case, are being told they can’t go about their daily lives because that might be a provocation. That is not how policing is meant to work. That’s not how society can work.”

Mr  Falter said on Saturday night: “The time has come for Sir Mark Rowley to go. He must resign or be removed by the Mayor of London and the Home Secretary.

“What happened to me was a disgrace. Imagine what it felt like to be told by police officers that being ‘quite openly Jewish’ would ‘antagonise’ people and so I must leave the area on pain of arrest.”

Shabana Mahmood, Labour’s shadow justice secretary, told Sir Trevor that she did not think Sir Mark should resign.

“I can understand the strength of feeling and as I say that footage was very concerning, and I can understand where Mr Falter is coming from,” she said. “But I don’t think that the resignation of the Met’s Commissioner is the way forward. I think the police should take all steps to maintain community confidence from all communities in the way that they go about their business on the streets of London and elsewhere.

“They have got to make sure they police the protests in line with the laws of our land, and enforce the laws of our land.”