Chief Whip Andrew Mitchell apologises to police

Andrew Mitchell Mr Mitchell denies using specific words reported by the Sun

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Government Chief Whip Andrew Mitchell has apologised for disrespectful remarks to police who made him get off his bicycle as he left Downing Street.

"I accept I did not treat the police with the respect they deserve," he said. The Conservative MP denied claims in the Sun that he had sworn and called the officers "plebs".

A No 10 spokesperson said the prime minister welcomed news of the apology.

The Metropolitan Police said it had not made a complaint against Mr Mitchell.

His outburst came after armed police turned Mr Mitchell away from the main Downing Street gate, instead directing him to the smaller pedestrian gate.

He is reported to have used foul language and told the officer at the gates to "learn your place" and "you don't run this government". The officer concerned reported the incident to his superiors.

'Appalling behaviour'

The MP for Sutton Coldfield said in a statement: "On Wednesday night I attempted to leave Downing Street via the main gate, something I have been allowed to do many times before. I was told that I was not allowed to leave that way.

"While I do not accept that I used any of the words that have been reported, I accept I did not treat the police with the respect they deserve.

Analysis

It's catching, this apologising thing.

First Nick Clegg on tuition fees and now Andrew Mitchell, the chief whip, is set to speak directly to the police officer he says he neither swore nor shouted at while trying to leave Downing Street through the main gates on his bike on Wednesday evening.

Whatever the facts of what was said, it was clearly an argument of sufficient robustness to merit a face-to-face chat with the PM, imposing a little discipline on his head of discipline.

Embarrassing of course. In fact, very embarrassing, but also potentially damaging, coming in a week when the focus has been on the sacrifices the boys and girls in blue have to make on our behalf.

Fatal to his career?

Unlikely, but fortunate that Mr Mitchell does not have a public-facing job in cabinet, allowing him to fade into the shadows and maybe even take the bus to work for a few weeks.

"I have seen the supervising sergeant and apologised, and will also apologise to the police officer involved."

The Sun newspaper said it stood by its story "in full", including the use of the term "plebs".

The Downing Street spokesperson said: "The prime minister is aware there was an incident. He is glad that Andrew Mitchell has apologised.

"He thinks the police should always be treated with the respect they deserve."

A Metropolitan Police spokesman said that the force had not made a formal complaint about Wednesday's incident.

Former Conservative Party chairman Lord Tebbit has branded the minister's outburst "extraordinarily stupid" and suggested he "must be under more pressure than he can handle", in a blog for the Daily Telegraph.

And backbench Conservative MP Philip Davies said the reported comments were "obviously unacceptable" and that he would tell Mr Mitchell so to his face when he next sees him.

Responding on Twitter to reports of Mr Mitchell's comments, shadow defence secretary Jim Murphy said: "Some of these Tories are foul mouthed spoilt little brats and now one caught."

And shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper described Mr Mitchell's reported behaviour as "appalling".

"No-one should treat police officers or public servants in this way.

"And the idea that a cabinet minister could behave like this towards police officers doing their job is an utter disgrace.

"It tells you all you need to know about this out-of-touch government and its attitude to public servants."

'Stern disciplinarian'

She said Downing Street had "a lot of questions to answer" about the incident including what was actually said and "whether the deeply offensive language reported was used".

"How can a Chief Whip hope to do his job or instil respect when he behaves like this and can't even keep his cool?," she added.

Mr Mitchell, a former soldier, was moved from the position of international development secretary in David Cameron's first major reshuffle earlier this month.

Now Conservative chief whip, he is in charge of party discipline and keeping rebel backbenchers in line.

A self-confessed "stern disciplinarian", who was reportedly nicknamed Thrasher at school, Mr Mitchell was a minister for social security between 1995 and 1997 before losing his seat in Tony Blair's landslide Labour victory.

He returned to the Commons at the 2001 election and was made a minister after the 2010 general election.

The married father of two, whose father Sir David Mitchell was a Conservative minister under Margaret Thatcher, served as a UN peacekeeper in Cyprus in the 1970s.

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