'Speaker Martin must go': MPs unite in wake of unprecedented police raids on Tory MP and House of Commons
Michael Martin: Faces a backlash from MPs
Speaker Michael Martin faced calls for his resignation last night over claims that he authorised the unprecedented police raid on the House of Commons.
MPs from all three main parties were appalled that detectives were given the green light to enter the Palace of Westminster and search Damian Green’s private office.
It is unheard of for an MP to be arrested and his office raided by police in connection with a leak inquiry.
Parliamentary orders, designed to ensure an MP’s attendance and work at Westminster cannot be impeded, would have prevented such action had the Commons been sitting, according to constitutional experts.
But officers appear to have waited until the parliamentary session ended on Wednesday before mounting their operation.
Mr Green’s computer and mobile phone are understood to have been confiscated, along with paper and electronic files.
Police were described by Tories as ‘aggressive’ as they marched into the seat of democracy, telling one senior party figure who was present as they searched Mr Green’s office: ‘You are at the site of a crime scene.’
Astonishingly, Mr Green’s parliamentary email account was disabled – leaving his constituents unable to contact him.
Messages were bounced back with the terse explanation: ‘Your message wasn’t delivered because of security policies.’
The Conservative Party is understood to have video footage of police going through files in Mr Green’s office. If made public, the images are sure to heighten the outrage at the affair.
Both Speaker Martin and the Serjeant at Arms Jill Pay face a backlash from MPs, who argue that the raid was an affront to democracy.
The Serjeant is responsible for maintaining law and order in and around the Commons and is thought to have agreed to the police raid at least 24 hours in advance, and notified the Speaker’s office.
Tory MP Douglas Carswell said: ‘If it turns out that the Speaker gave the go-a-head for this raid, I will be demanding to his face, on every occasion that I can, that Mr Martin now quit.
‘The purpose of the Commons Speaker is to preside over an institution that holds government to account – not to give the green light to police raids against legitimate opposition.
‘MPs cannot have confidence inMartin if he sanctioned this.’ Mr Carswell said he had asked the Speaker’s office if Mr Martin allowed the raid and was told: ‘There is a process to be followed that was followed.’
‘I am taking that as a yes,’ he said.
‘There needs to be a pretty good explanation as to why he sanctioned this raid.
If the Speaker can’t provide one, he should go. I have spoken to MPs on both sides of the Commons who are shocked and outraged by this.’
Such is the depth of the anger that MPs might even seek to delay next week’s Queen’s Speech by raising repeated points of order over the affair.
Former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith wrote to the Speaker last night to protest at the ‘abuse of the principle of the supremacy of Parliament’.
Mr Duncan Smith told Mr Martin that he and other officers of the House had a ‘prime responsibility to make sure that the agencies of government do not consider it their right to treat Parliament like any other department or agency in the land’.
He demanded: ‘Who else will our constituents feel they can turn to, to settle legitimate grievances, if they come to believe that the police or any other agency can cow this House into subservience?’
M r Duncan Smith called for a parliamentary inquiry into the affair and an emergency debate as soon as Parliament returns next week.
Tory MP Ben Wallace wrote to the Serjeant demanding ‘urgent’ clarification of her role in agreeing to the raid.
‘As I am sure you are aware democracies have a long history of whistleblowers exposing when a government has sought to use deception as a way to cover its failures,’ he said.
SO WHAT ABOUT ALL THE LABOUR LEAKS?
While the police are looking at leaks, they might wish to look at Labour’s own track record.
This week’s emergency mini-Budget was the most widely-trailed financial statement of recent years – with details of a 2.5 per cent cut in VAT and a new 45p top rate of tax revealed well before Parliament was told.
Government sources have suggested the Tories got wind of some of their proposals and helped bring them into the public domain.
But others believe the information was leaked by Labour figures, possibly as part of a turf war between Numbers 10 and 11 Downing Street.
Tory MPs also contrast the treatment of the Damian Green case with that of a string of leaks to BBC economic editor Robert Peston.
They raised suspicions that a ‘mole’ inside Downing Street or the Treasury had passed Peston a string of market-moving banking ‘scoops’.
But Tory MP Greg Hands said: ‘The authorities refused to investigate.
There is a curious contrast between the two approaches to leaked information – the first involving massive movement of bank shares, which is potentially embarrassing to the Government, is not investigated, while the second, involving immigration leaks clearly in the public interest to Damian Green, prompts this unbelievably heavy-handed response.’
Gordon Brown had a long history of using leaked information against the then Conservative government during his time in opposition.
In the early 1990s, he scored a number of direct hits on John Major’s administration using leaked Whitehall documents on welfare crackdowns, utility companies, defence cuts and childcare.
Former Tory leader Michael Howard said yesterday: ‘If this approach had been in place when Gordon Brown was in opposition, he’d have spent half his time under arrest.’
Government leaks enabled Winston Churchill to warn in the 1930s of Britain’s failure to prepare properly for the looming Second World War.
And former MP Tam Dalyell used them to embarrass Margaret Thatcher over the sinking of the Argentine cruiser, the General Belgrano, during the Falklands War.
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