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British cabinet minister quits after swearing at police

20 october 2012, 14:58
0
British cabinet minister Andrew Mitchell. ©REUTERS
British cabinet minister Andrew Mitchell. ©REUTERS
British cabinet minister Andrew Mitchell resigned on Friday after launching a foul-mouthed tirade at police officers guarding the gates of Prime Minister David Cameron's Downing Street office, AFP reports.

Mitchell, who as the government's chief whip was supposed to enforce discipline in Cameron's Conservative party, handed in his resignation after nearly one month of intense pressure over his behaviour.

He denied accusations that he had called police "plebs" but admitted using bad language to the officers after they stopped him going through the main gate on his bicycle, directing him to a side gate instead.

The row was damaging for the Conservatives as they face growing accusations that the privileged backgrounds of Cameron and other senior party members including Mitchell are out of touch with voters.

The new chief whip will be George Young, the former leader of the House of Commons. British media pointed out that Young is like Mitchell a keen cyclist and went to the elite Eton College, where Cameron was educated.

In his resignation letter, Mitchell, said: "The offending comment and the reason for my apology to the police was my parting remark 'I thought you guys were supposed to fucking help us'."

Part of the offensive word was replaced by asterisks in the copy of his letter officially released by Downing Street.

Citing the "upsetting and damaging publicity", Mitchell said that "whatever the rights and wrongs of the matter I will not be able to fulfil my duties as we would both wish".

He added: "I have made clear to you -- and I give you my categorical assurance again -- that I did not, never have and never would call a police officer a 'pleb' or a 'moron' or use any of the other pejorative descriptions attributed to me.

"It was obviously wrong of me to use such bad language and I am very sorry about it and grateful to the police officer for accepting my apology."

Police representatives had called for Mitchell's resignation, saying his outburst was particularly badly timed because it came in the week that two policewomen were shot dead in the city of Manchester in northwest England.

Cameron wrote back that he was sorry to receive Mitchell's resignation but understood why he had decided to quit.

"I regret that this has become necessary," the prime minister wrote.

"As you have acknowledged, the incident in Downing Street was not acceptable and you were right to apologise for it."

Mitchell, 56, a former soldier and investment banker, was appointed to his new post by Cameron during a cabinet reshuffle in August. He previously served as international development secretary.

He was educated at the elite Rugby public school where he was reportedly nicknamed "Thrasher" because of his reputation as a stern disciplinarian.

Mitchell met Britain's Police Federation last Friday in a fruitless attempt to smooth over the row.

The opposition Labour Party had also taunted Cameron over Mitchell's row with the police, which was first reported in The Sun newspaper and quickly became known as "Plebgate" in the British media.

Speculation over his position reached fever pitch after he was unable to attend the Conservatives' annual conference in the industrial city of Birmingham, which neighbours his own constituency as a lawmaker.

But the Conservatives continue to face accusations of being a party of the privileged.

Hours before Mitchell quit, finance minister George Osborne was embroiled in a row after he got into a first class train carriage with only a standard ticket.

It emerged later that Osborne paid to upgrade his ticket, while both his spokesman and rail company Virgin Trains dismissed initial reports that Osborne's aide had refused to pay.


By Danny Kemp

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