Home Secretary Priti Patel declined to express her confidence in Metropolitan Police Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick over the force’s botched VIP child sex abuse investigation during a live interview.
The exchange on LBC Radio prompted her spokesman to afterwards insist she had “full confidence” in the police chief.
When repeatedly questioned during the interview on whether she has confidence in Dame Cressida, Ms Patel responded: “I work with the commissioner.
“The commissioner does a lot of great work and she oversees the largest police force in the country.
“There are still questions, rightly so – some questions have been put to me today, actually, very publicly in newspapers, and it’s right that I also look at these questions.”
After the interview, Ms Patel’s spokesman said: “As the Home Secretary said, she works with Cressida Dick every day.
“The Home Secretary has full confidence in her to do her job.”
But the spokesman declined to say why Ms Patel refused to express her confidence in the UK’s most senior police officer during the interview.
Later, Downing Street said Boris Johnson and Ms Patel have “absolute confidence” in Dame Cressida.
A Number 10 spokesman said: “This was a deeply concerning case and the PM’s thoughts are with Lady Brittan, her late husband (Leon Brittan) and others affected.
“The Prime Minister has complete confidence in the Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick, as does the Home Secretary.
“Both the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary have absolute confidence in her as we work together with the police to make our streets safer.”
Ms Patel’s comments came as a former High Court judge called on her to launch a criminal inquiry into the failed probe.
In an open letter, Sir Richard Henriques said Scotland Yard’s disastrous Operation Midland has “gravely damaged” confidence in the justice system.
He heavily criticised the Met’s bungled investigation into false claims of a VIP sex abuse ring in Westminster in a 2016 report, which identified 43 police failings.
But the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) watchdog found no evidence of misconduct or criminality by the officers during the operation.
Former home secretary Leon Brittan was one of the men falsely accused by fantasist Carl Beech – then known as “Nick” – and died in January 2015 without knowing there was insufficient evidence to prosecute him.
His home was raided, along with those of D-Day veteran Lord Bramall and former Tory MP Harvey Proctor, before it emerged that all the claims were based on lies by Beech, who was jailed for 18 years in 2019 for perverting the course of justice.
Mr Proctor has previously described the police watchdog’s probe into five officers involved in the investigation as “a whitewash”.
Sir Richard said a district judge was “knowingly misled into issuing search warrants”, in his letter published in the Daily Mail.
“There are reasonable grounds to believe that criminal acts have been committed,” he said.
“I am writing to you to request that an independent police force should now be asked to investigate not only the conduct of Metropolitan Police officers involved in authorising and applying for search warrants, but also those in the (Independent Police Complaints Commission) IPCC and IOPC whose duty it was to investigate.
“Northumbria Police is fully aware of the facts and has demonstrated competence where others have failed.”
His letter comes after Downing Street said the Met must “learn from its failings” amid Lord Brittan’s widow accusing Scotland Yard of having a culture of “cover up and flick away”.
The Home Secretary asked Chief Inspector of Constabulary Sir Tom Winsor to launch a review in 2019, which criticised the Met for waiting three years before acting on Sir Richard’s recommendations and found bosses were more concerned with “restricting access” to the report.