Justice Secretary Chris Grayling has defended Chief Whip Andrew Mitchell in the face of sustained calls for him to be sacked over disputed claims he called police officers “plebs” in a foul-mouthed outburst.
Labour has renewed demands on Prime Minister David Cameron to axe the Sutton Coldfield MP after an attempted “clear the air” meeting with local police representatives ended with them saying his position was “untenable”.
Speaking on Sunday, Mr Grayling described the incident as “very unfortunate”, but he argued it was “a mistake for the Police Federation to be trying to use this in the way that they are”.
Emerging from Friday’s meeting in Mr Mitchell’s Sutton Coldfield constituency, the chairman of the West Mercia federation Ken Mackaill accused the senior politician of questioning police integrity.
Though he admits swearing when he was refused access through the Downing Street gates on his bicycle, and has apologised personally to the officer involved, Mr Mitchell denies calling the officers who bore the brunt of his outburst “plebs”.
That is at odds with the officer’s written log of the outburst.
Mr Grayling said: “It’s clearly very unfortunate and what happened in the first place with Andrew in Downing Street was very unfortunate.
“His conduct was unacceptable he’s accepted that, he’s apologised. I think really the matter should be left there, he’s issued a full public apology, he’s apologised in person to the police officers concerned.
“I think it’s a mistake for the Police Federation to be trying to use this in the way that they are. I think frankly we need to get on with sorting out issues and challenges in relation to policing, having constructive dialogue with the Police Federation in relation to policing.
“Our police do a wonderful job for us around the country, we need to make sure we give them every support they can to carry on doing that job.”
Defence Secretary Philip Hammond has also rallied to his Cabinet colleague’s defence, accusing the Police Federation of trying to “hijack” the row to bring up other issues and grievances with the Government.
And a Tory source insisted that Friday’s meeting had changed nothing, saying Mr Mitchell “fully intends to be at his desk doing the job he is paid to do on Monday morning”.