Nick Clegg: Water cannon use 'against policing by consent'

Water cannon being used in Belfast in 2001  Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK where water cannon are currently used

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Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has said using water cannon "rubs up against the long tradition of policing by consent on London's streets".

It was "fanciful" to think cannon could have helped during the riots, he added.

The comments come after Mayor Boris Johnson gave the Met Police approval to buy three devices from Germany.

Prime Minister David Cameron has backed the purchase but Home Secretary Theresa May said health and safety implications of the cannon needed to be considered.


Boris Johnson's offer to stand in front of a water cannon sounded such fun. But his plans to buy them has raised the prospect of a serious row within the government.

The prime minister has given his old friend and rival his backing - in principle, at least. But today the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said they were not the answer to policing the streets of London.

The home secretary has made it clear that she wants to explore some "difficult health and safety issues" before deciding whether or not to make water cannon available to the Met.

Could she really defy the prime minister on this? Is she really prepared to authorise their use for the first time outside Northern Ireland? Her decision will have far-reaching consequences for politics and policing.

Earlier this week it emerged the mayor had authorised the purchase of three second-hand water cannon from the German Federal Police for £218,000.

The devices cannot be deployed unless the home secretary authorises their use in England and Wales, but on Wednesday a Number 10 spokesman said, in principle, the prime minister supported the decision to buy the equipment.

Speaking on his phone-in show on LBC, the leader of the Liberal Democrats said: "My own personal view is that I do not think that second-hand water cannons bought at great expense from Germany are the answer to policing the streets of London.

"All of this comes from lots of understandable soul-searching after the riots about what more powers or equipment we need to give the police to deal with something like that.

"The idea that in the riots, where people are scurrying down small streets smashing windows and then rushing off - small groups moving around in a very fluid situation - the idea that great big lumbering second-hand German water cannon is somehow going to be wheeled out and sort it out is, I think, fanciful.

Nick Clegg Nick Clegg believes water cannon would not have helped during the 2011 riots in London

"I personally think it also rubs up against the long tradition of policing by consent on London's streets. I think it creates a kind of embattled sense of how the police work, which I don't think is in keeping with our long policing traditions."

On Wednesday the mayor told the radio station he was prepared to be blasted by water cannon to test whether they were safe to use, following Mrs May's comments.

Mr Clegg declined to join Mr Johnson but told the radio station: "I'm looking forward to the consumer test."

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