Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt blast Met Police threat to prosecute journalists over leaked diplomatic cables
Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt have condemned the Metropolitan Police for threatening the press over the publication of leaked diplomatic cables.
The Conservativie leadership frontrunners led a furious cross-party backlash against the force after it suggested that journalists who published further leaked diplomatic cables from the ex-ambasassodor the United States could face criminal prosecution.
A police investigation into the leak of the top secret missives was launched last week after Sir Kim Darroch was forced to resign when his comments about Donald Trump’s “uniquely dysfunctional" White House triggered a major diplomatic storm.
But Metropolitan Police Commissioner Neil Basu on Friday urged media oulets not to publish any more of the sensitive documents - instead urging them to hand them to their “rightful owner, Her Majesty’s government.”
In a further statement, Mr Basu said the media had "an important role in scrutinising the actions of the state" - but he warned that publication of further documents "could also constitute a criminal offence and one that carries no public interest defence".
The comments drew a pointed rebuke from Tory frontrunner Boris Johnson, who said any attempt to prosecute journalists for publishing further leaks could have a “chilling effect” on public debate.
“In my view there is no threat to national security implied in the release of this material,” he told a Conservative leadership hustings.
“It is embarrassing, but it is not a threat to national security.
“It is the duty of media organisations to bring new and interesting facts into the public domain. That is what they are there for. A prosecution on this basis would amount to an infringement on press freedom and have a chilling effect on public debate.”
Meanwhile, fellow leadership contender Jeremy Hunt vowed to “defend to the hilt the right of the press to publish those leaks if they receive them and judge them to be in the public interest".
Labour’s Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell also hit out at the force, warning: “I don’t welcome the Met Police stepping in to threaten actions against broadcasters and newspapers."
He added: "If someone has committed a crime under the Official Secrets Act - individual civil servants - of course the police will investigate.”
Liberal Democrat leadership contender Ed Davey added: “Press freedom has never been so under attack in my lifetime. There are alarming signs of a creeping police state tearing down the ancient democratic pillar of a free press, which is essential to hold government to account.
Despite the warning, the Mail on Sunday published a series of fresh revelations from Sir Kim’s cables from the US, suggesting President Trump had torpedoed the Iran nuclear deal in an act of “diplomatic vandalism”.
According to the paper, Sir Kim reported back to UK officials that a last-ditch attempt by then-Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson to change Mr Trump’s mind had failed because the President’s “personality issues” with predecessor Barack Obama were the driving force behind the decision.