Cabinet secretary Sir Mark Sedwill has said lessons need to be learned at the Prime Minister’s Office following a controversial political speech made by Boris Johnson last month in front of 35 police officers.
The speech in Wakefield had been expected to relate solely to police recruitment but it also covered Brexit and the Labour Party’s unwillingness to support a general election, prompting an angry response from West Yorkshire Police. The region’s elected police and crime commissioner Mark Burns-Williamson said Johnson had “hijacked” the announcement.
Shadow policing minister Louise Haigh wrote to Sedwill demanding answers about the way the event was handled and fears it represented a politicisation of the police, and she has now revealed the cabinet secretary's response.
Details released to the BBC, The Mirror and the Yorkshire Post indicate an acceptance that the announcement – marking the launch of a recruitment drive for 20,000 officers – was poorly handled.
In the letter, Sedwill conceded that an "unintentional" perception had been created that the police were being involved for political purposes. He said the problem had arisen because planned appearances later the same day, in which the prime minister had intended to discuss the political topics, had been cancelled.
“There should have been a clearer delineation between the government policy aspects (concerning police recruitment) and political content,” Sedwill said.
“In addition, the media questions went beyond police recruitment to cover other topical issues of the day. Due to the last minute changes these aspects were not considered properly.
“The Prime Minister’s Office are reviewing their visit planning process to learn any lessons and to improve planning and communications.”
Haigh, who is a former Metropolitan Police special constable, said on Twitter that Johnson’s Wakefield speech had been a “desperate attempt” to use the police for party political gain, but that the stunt had backfired.
“The civil service's unease at his behaviour is obvious,” she said.
“This is a prime minister that cannot be trusted to behave properly, tell the truth or run the country.”
Home Affairs Select Committee chair Yvette Cooper also questioned Sedwill over the September 9 speech and received a letter in response.
She told The Mirror that there was a need for greater clarity on the reasons that lay behind Johnson’s last-minute changes of plan, and urged the prime minister to apologise to West Yorkshire Police for putting the force in “such an invidious position”.