If Andrew Mitchell’s statement outside Downing Street this morning was intended to draw a line under the controversy surrounding his altercation with the police, it was a resounding failure. The Chief Whip began badly, stating that it had been “a long and extremely frustrating day”, before rather negating that point by conceding: “not that that’s any excuse at all” (why mention it then?)
He added: “I have apologised to the police, I have apologised to the officer on the gate, and he has accepted my apology, and I hope very much that we can draw a line under it there.”
Then asked whether he called the police “plebs”, he again denied doing so.
I want to make it absolutely clear that I did not say the words attributed to me.
But with today’s Sun reporting that an official police record of the incident confirms that he did use the word “plebs”, the Chief Whip’s denials are only likely to invite further scrutiny of the conflicting accounts. Either he did use the word “plebs”, in which case he is unfit for office, or he didn’t, in which case the police are lying and, as Trevor Kavanagh puts it, he should he sue them “for defamation”.
What Mitchell has still not told us is what he did say. Earlier this morning, Nick Clegg rightly called on him to “explain his side of the story” but that is precisely what he failed to do.
Minutes after Mitchell’s statement, Clegg was interviewed on the Today programme. He said that Mitchell had “quite rightly” apologised, before adding that he was not going to give a “running textual analysis”. Others, however, will continue to do so.