Former chief whip Andrew Mitchell cycles out of politics denying ever calling Downing Street officers “plebs” in a foul-mouthed rant, but his resignation seems to be enough to satisfy police.
Andrew Mitchell spent 10 years angling for the plum post of Conservative chief whip but swiftly sabotaged his own political career and watched it unravel in the past month. Old Etonian Sir George Young, 71, known as the “bicycling baronet” will replace Mr Mitchell.
The senior minister resigned on Friday night after a four-week standoff with police and a pounding from MPs, some of whom questioned his ability to enforce party discipline. His deputy, John Randall, was reported to have threatened his resignation over the issue earlier in the week.
In his resignation letter to the prime minister yesterday, Mr Mitchell said: “Over the last two days it has become clear to me that whatever the rights and wrongs of the matter I will not be able to fulfil my duties as we would both wish.”
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Police accused Mr Mitchell of calling them “f***ing plebs” for refusing to allow him to bring his bicycle through the main gates of Downing Street and the allegation was immediately leaked to The Sun newspaper. Police notes of the incident found their way into The Telegraph. But while Mr Mitchell continues to deny calling officers “plebs” he admits saying “f***ing”. The admission – and last night’s resignation – appear to have finally placated police.
“It is not good to see anyone fall from public office but the decision by the prime minister to accept Andrew Mitchell’s resignation seemed almost inevitable. Andrew Mitchell has apologised to our Metropolitan Police colleague and our colleague has accepted the apology. We hope this matter is now closed,” the Police Federation said in a statement on their website, adding: “We are not doing any further media on this issue.”
Some of Mr Mitchell’s political colleagues made an effort to paint him in a good light. Education Minister Michael Gove called Mr Mitchell “a man of honour” who resigned because he recognised others were damaged by his actions – not least the Conservative Party.
“I think it is also appropriate to say that Andrew recognised that the words that he uttered were utterly unacceptable,” Mr Gove said.
Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg dismissed the entire event as “hugely exaggerated”, however.
“Frankly, big deal,” Mr Rees-Mogg said. “To blow this up into a resignation issue I think has been very unfortunate.”
Conservative MP Mark Prichard blamed the resignation on “the ongoing and incessant beating of the government with a big stick by the Police Federation.”
“Also the fact that Labour were, understandably I suppose, they’re the opposition, piling on the pressure for purely political reaons.”
Mr Mitchell’s replacement, Sir George Young, has been an MP since 1974. He was described by Mr Gove as a “distinguished, honourable,” man. He served as chairman of the Standards and privileges Committee from 2001 to 2009. Sir George is the son of a diplomat and educated at Oxford and the University of Surrey.