Met chief Sir Paul Stephenson quits

After a turbulent day on which Rebekah Brooks was arrested, the head of Scotland Yard resigns - with

Sir Paul Stephenson, the head of the Metropolitan police -- and Britain's most senior police officer -- has resigned. He said that he had "taken this decision as a consequence of ongoing speculation and accusations relating to the Met's links with News International".

Earlier in the day, former NI chief executive Rebekah Brooks was arrested by officers of Operation Weeting - the hacking enquiry - and Operation Elveden, which is investigating allegations of improper payments to police.

In the Sunday newspapers, Sir Paul had come under fire over the employment of former News of the World executive Neil Wallis in 2009 as a PR adviser to the Met. Wallis was arrested by Operation Weeting last week.

Stephenson said that he had not revealed his links to Wallis because he did not want to "compromise" David Cameron, who had employed Wallis's boss at the News of the World, Andy Coulson:

Once Mr Wallis's name did become associated with Operation Weeting, I did not want to compromise the Prime Minister in any way by revealing or discussing a potential suspect who clearly had a close relationship with Mr Coulson. I am aware of the many political exchanges in relation to Mr Coulson's previous employment - I believe it would have been extraordinarily clumsy of me to have exposed the Prime Minister, or by association the Home Secretary, to any accusation, however unfair, as a consequence of them being in possession of operational information in this regard. Similarly, the Mayor. Because of the individuals involved, their positions and relationships, these were I believe unique circumstances.

The Guardian's editor, Alan Rusbridger, said one colleague had described this paragraph as "a hand grenade lobbed at Downing Street", although there could also be an innocent explanation.

Keith Vaz MP told the BBC News Channel he was "genuinely shocked" by the resignation, particularly since Stephenson is due to give evidence to the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee on Tuesday.

Rebekah Brooks is also due to give evidence at the committee, although it is unclear whether she will now appear.

London Mayor Boris Johnson said he was "very reluctant" to accept the resignation, as Stephenson was "widely admired". "The so-called nexus between the News of the World and the Met was going to make life difficult . . . he didn't want to have that kind of distraction," said Johnson.

Here is the text of Stephenson's resignation statement:

I have taken this decision as a consequence of the ongoing speculation and accusations relating to the Met's links with News International at a senior level and in particular in relation to Mr Neil Wallis who as you know was arrested in connection with Operation Weeting last week.
...

Let me turn to phone hacking and my relationship with Neil Wallis. I want to put the record straight.
I met Mr Wallis in 2006. The purpose of that meeting was, as with other journalists, to represent the context of policing and to better inform the public debate carried out through the media on policing issues.
I had no knowledge of, or involvement in, the original investigation into phone hacking in 2006 that successfully led to the conviction and imprisonment of two men. I had no reason to believe this was anything other than a successful investigation. I was unaware that there were any other documents in our possession of the nature that have now emerged.
I have acknowledged the statement by John Yates that if he had known then what he knows now he would have made different decisions.
My relationship with Mr Wallis continued over the following years and the frequency of our meetings is a matter of public record. The record clearly accords with my description of the relationship as one maintained for professional purposes and an acquaintance.
In 2009 the Met entered into a contractual arrangement with Neil Wallis, terminating in 2010. I played no role in the letting or management of that contract.
I have heard suggestions that we must have suspected the alleged involvement of Mr Wallis in phone hacking. Let me say unequivocally that I did not and had no reason to have done so. I do not occupy a position in the world of journalism; I had no knowledge of the extent of this disgraceful practice and the repugnant nature of the selection of victims that is now emerging; nor of its apparent reach into senior levels.

The full statement can be found at Channel 4 News.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

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Boris Johnson is right about Saudi Arabia - but will he stick to his tune in Riyadh?

The Foreign Secretary went off script, but on truth. 

The difference a day makes. On Wednesday Theresa May was happily rubbing shoulders with Saudi Royalty at the Gulf Co-operation Council summit and talking about how important she thinks the relationship is.

Then on Thursday, the Guardian rained on her parade by publishing a transcript of her Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, describing the regime as a "puppeteer" for "proxy wars" while speaking at an international conference last week.

We will likely never know how she reacted when she first heard the news, but she’s unlikely to have been happy. It was definitely off-script for a UK foreign secretary. Until Johnson’s accidental outburst, the UK-Saudi relationship had been one characterised by mutual backslapping, glamorous photo-ops, major arms contracts and an unlimited well of political support.

Needless to say, the Prime Minister put him in his place as soon as possible. Within a few hours it was made clear that his words “are not the government’s views on Saudi and its role in the region". In an unequivocal statement, Downing Street stressed that Saudi is “a vital partner for the UK” and reaffirmed its support for the Saudi-led air strikes taking place in Yemen.

For over 18 months now, UK fighter jets and UK bombs have been central to the Saudi-led destruction of the poorest country in the region. Schools, hospitals and homes have been destroyed in a bombing campaign that has created a humanitarian catastrophe.

Despite the mounting death toll, the arms exports have continued unabated. Whitehall has licensed over £3.3bn worth of weapons since the intervention began last March. As I write this, the UK government is actively working with BAE Systems to secure the sale of a new generation of the same fighter jets that are being used in the bombing.

There’s nothing new about UK leaders getting close to Saudi Arabia. For decades now, governments of all political colours have worked hand-in-glove with the arms companies and Saudi authorities. Our leaders have continued to bend over backwards to support them, while turning a blind eye to the terrible human rights abuses being carried out every single day.

Over recent years we have seen Tony Blair intervening to stop an investigation into arms exports to Saudi and David Cameron flying out to Riyadh to meet with royalty. Last year saw the shocking but ultimately unsurprising revelation that UK civil servants had lobbied for Saudi Arabia to sit on the UN Human Rights Council, a move which would seem comically ironic if the consequences weren’t so serious.

The impact of the relationship hasn’t just been to boost and legitimise the Saudi dictatorship - it has also debased UK policy in the region. The end result is a hypocritical situation in which the government is rightly calling on Russian forces to stop bombing civilian areas in Aleppo, while at the same time arming and supporting Saudi Arabia while it unleashes devastation on Yemen.

It would be nice to think that Johnson’s unwitting intervention could be the start of a new stage in UK-Saudi relations; one in which the UK stops supporting dictatorships and calls them out on their appalling human rights records. Unfortunately it’s highly unlikely. Last Sunday, mere days after his now notorious speech, Johnson appeared on the Andrew Marr show and, as usual, stressed his support for his Saudi allies.

The question for Johnson is which of these seemingly diametrically opposed views does he really hold? Does he believe Saudi Arabia is a puppeteer that fights proxy wars and distorts Islam, or does he see it as one of the UK’s closest allies?

By coincidence Johnson is due to visit Riyadh this weekend. Will he be the first Foreign Secretary in decades to hold the Saudi regime accountable for its abuses, or will he cozy up to his hosts and say it was all one big misunderstanding?

If he is serious about peace and about the UK holding a positive influence on the world stage then he must stand by his words and use his power to stop the arms sales and hold the UK’s "puppeteer" ally to the same standard as other aggressors. Unfortunately, if history is anything to go by, then we shouldn’t hold our breath.

Andrew Smith is a spokesman for Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT). You can follow CAAT at @CAATuk.