The sharing of responsibility between the Home Secretary and the London Mayor for hiring and firing the Metropolitan Police commissioner, along with the Met’s “dual function” of having both national and London-only responsibilities, should be re-evaluated in the wake of Cressida Dick’s resignation as Met chief, a senior London Conservative has said.
Bob Neill, the MP for Bromley & Chislehurst who chairs the House of Commons justice select committee, told the BBC’s Politics London programme that Dick’s departure because of Sadiq Khan’s dissatisfaction with her response to a series of criminal acts and incompetent investigations by Met officers and revelations of racist and misogynistic attitudes among some highlighted the potential for “tensions” between Mayors and Home Secretaries if Mayors decide to act alone.
He questioned if it is “still practical” for the Met to have a national responsibility for counter terrorism alongside its London policing tasks and also suggested “beefing up the scrutiny powers of the London Assembly and as well as “involving the London boroughs much more in scrutiny”, due to a view in outer London areas such as his own that “too much of the Mayor’s strategy has focussed on inner London”.
Dick announced on Thursday evening that she had decided to “step aside” as commissioner, saying that Khan had left her with “no choice” in the matter as the he had made it clear that he “no longer has sufficient confidence in my leadership of the Metropolitan Police Service”.
Neill was critical of the Labour Mayor, saying that “whilst there are failings which can be laid at the door of Cressida Dick” Khan, whose mayoral responsibilities include setting overall strategy for the Met, “can’t escape responsibility for his share of what’s gone wrong” and expressing the view that “the proper course would have been to have sought an urgent meeting with the Home Secretary, to have discussed that with and then then come to a joint position,” rather than acting unilaterally and thereby “pre-empted the role of the Home Secretary”, who is in charge of national counter terrorism policy.
He added that recruiting a replacement for Dick, who is to stay on temporarily while arrangements for her successor are made, will be more difficult “if you think you’re going to be ambushed by the Mayor and hung out to dry”. Writing in today’s Observer, Khan said he “will not support” the appointment of a new commissioner who is unwilling to tackle the Met’s cultural issues.
Khan’s effective ousting of Dick is not the first time a London Mayor has taken such action – a previous commissioner, Ian Blair, resigned in 2008 after Boris Johnson, six months into his first mayoral term, told him he felt he should go. The formal position is that the power to select and dismiss Met chiefs lies with the Home Secretary, but he or she must “have regard” to the views of the Mayor, whose remit includes that of police and crime commissioner for the capital. However, Dick, like Blair, concluded that without the Mayor’s confidence it was impossible to stay in the job.
Also on the programme, Rupa Huq, Labour MP for Ealing Central & Acton, highlighted a loss of confidence in the Met among Londoners and said she understood that Dick’s reappointment by Patel, with Khan’s agreement, for a further two years in the autumn – when Huq had called for her to go – had been partly because “there was no obvious successor”. The BBC has reported that both Patel and Johnson were unenthusiastic about potential internal candidate Neil Basu, but that Patel had considered setting up a recruitment process before Downing Street over ruled her.
Neill told Politics London that Dick’s resignation should and hopefully will not have an effect on the Met’s investigation of Covid rules potentially broken by Johnson and others at Downing Street and elsewhere in Whitehall – the so-called “partygate” affair – though he said the Met now being “effectively rudderless” didn’t help with expediting inquiries.
Last week on Twitter Neill spoke out strongly against reports that allies of the Prime Minister had been seeking to put pressure on the police over its handling of the matter, saying on Twitter that “any suggestion of political pressure on the police is completely reprehensible” and that “No. 10 would do well to disown it”.
Watch the whole of Politics London here.
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