Good morning. I’ve just come from chairing another meeting of the COBRA emergency committee and I’d like to update you on the latest situation and the actions that we’re taking to get this despicable violence off our streets.
Since yesterday there are more police on the street, more people have been arrested and more people are being charged and prosecuted. Last night there were around 16,000 police on the streets of London and there is evidence that a more robust approach to policing in London resulted in a much quieter night across the capital and let me pay tribute to the bravery of those police officers and, indeed, everyone working for our emergency services. In total, there have been 750 arrests in London since Saturday with more than 160 people being charged.
Today, major police operations are underway as I speak to arrest the criminals who were not picked up last night but who were picked up on closed-circuit television cameras. Picture by picture these criminals are being identified and arrested and we will not let any phony concerns about human rights get in the way of the publication of these pictures and the arrest of these individuals. As I speak, sentences are also being passed. Courts sat through the night last night and will do again tonight. It is for the courts to sentence, but I would expect anyone convicted of violent disorder will be sent to prison.
We needed a fight back and a fight back is underway. We have seen the worst of Britain, but I also believe we’ve seen some of the best of Britain: the million people who’ve signed up on Facebook to support the police, communities coming together in the cleanup operations. But there is absolutely no room for complacency and there is much more to be done.
Overnight we saw the same appalling violence and thuggery that we’ve seen in London in new cities including Birmingham, Manchester and Nottingham. In the West Midlands three men were killed in a hit and run in Birmingham and the police are working round the clock to get to the bottom of what happened and bring the perpetrator to justice. In Birmingham, over 160 arrests were made. In Salford, up to a thousand youths were attacking the police at the height of the disturbance. Across Greater Manchester more than 100 arrests were made and in Nottinghamshire, Canning Circus police station was firebombed and over 80 arrests were made.
This continued violence is simply not acceptable and it will be stopped. We will not put up with this in our country. We will not allow a culture of fear to exist on our streets. Let me be clear. At COBRA this morning we agreed full contingency planning is going ahead. Whatever resources the police need they will get. Whatever tactics the police feel they need to employ they will have legal backing to do so. We will do whatever is necessary to restore law and order onto our streets. Every contingency is being looked at. Nothing is off the table. The police are already authorised to use baton rounds and we agreed at COBRA that while they’re not currently needed we now have in place contingency plans for water cannon to be available at 24 hours’ notice.
It is all too clear that we have a big problem with gangs in our country. For too long there’s been a lack of focus on the complete lack of respect shown by these groups of thugs. I’m clear that they are in no way representative of the vast majority of young people in our country who despise them, frankly, as much as the rest of us do, but there are pockets of our society that are not just broken but, frankly, sick. When we see children as young as 12 and 13 looting and laughing, when we see the disgusting sight of an injured young man with people pretending to help him while they are robbing him, it is clear there are things that are badly wrong in our society.
For me, the root cause of this mindless selfishness is the same thing that I have spoken about for years. It is a complete lack of responsibility in parts of our society. People allowed to feel that the world owes them something, that their rights outweigh their responsibilities and that their actions do not have consequences. Well, they do have consequences. We need to have a clearer code of values and standards that we expect people to live by and stronger penalties if they cross the line. Restoring a stronger sense of responsibility across our society, in every town, in every street, in every estate is something I’m determined to do.
Tomorrow, COBRA will meet again, Cabinet will meet, I’ll make a statement to Parliament, I’ll set out in full the measures that we’ll take to help businesses that have been affected, to help rebuild communities, to help rebuild the shops and buildings that have been damaged, to make sure the homeless are rehoused, to help local authorities in all the ways that are necessary. But today, right now, the priority is still clear: we will take every action necessary to bring order back to our streets.
Prime Minister, do you think that Boris Johnson is right, that you shouldn’t be cutting the police when all this is going on? And can I ask you, that if you were out on the streets of London last night you would have been in a place that was not at all reassuring. It felt like a city under siege, to be frank. Do you think that that is a situation that is sustainable?
Well, first of all, obviously mayors, local authorities always want more money and I don’t blame them for that. It’s the government’s job to give them what they need and to make sure they make the most of what they get. The first question I asked in COBRA today was whether the police had the resources that they needed, and they said yes, they did. I believe actually the last three days have demonstrated how important it is to get the most out of what we’ve got. We’ve gone from 3,000 police on the streets of London to 16,000 police on the streets of London, and I think that’s a demonstration that when you work hard to increase visible policing that can be done.
Your second question: no, I don’t want London to be in a permanent lockdown or shutdown. I want London to go back to normal, and frankly it’s the job of the police to police our communities, to protect businesses and shops so they can remain open. I want London to go back to being the thriving, bustling, international success story, wonderful city that it is, and the sooner we can get there the better.
Prime Minister, you have said that parts of Britain are sick. What is the cure in your view, and what do you say to people who say that part of the cure is more police, not fewer, more prison places, not fewer?
When I say parts of Britain are sick, the one word I would use to sum that up is irresponsibility. The sight of those young people running down streets, smashing windows, taking property, looting, laughing as they go, the problem of that is a complete lack of responsibility, a lack of proper parenting, a lack of proper upbringing, a lack of proper ethics, a lack of proper morals. That is what we need to change. There is no one trigger that can change these things. It’s about parenting, it’s about discipline in schools, it’s about making sure we have a welfare system that does not reward idleness. It is all of those things.
Now, of course we want to get the maximum out of the police budget to put the most police we have on the streets. Of course we want to get value for money out of everything that we do. But let’s not ignore the fact that what we’re seeing on our streets is actually a lack of responsibility. It is as much a moral problem as a political problem. That’s what we’re seeing, that’s what we need to deal with, and I think the whole country feels that way and recognises this is a problem for our society and one we have to cure and deal with.
Let me have just one more word on the police budgets, which is this. We won’t do anything that will reduce the amount of visible policing on our streets. And as I say, the last 48 hours have actually demonstrated how you can get a lot out of what we currently have, visible policing, and we won’t do anything that will put the public at risk.
One of the issues I also pressed in COBRA was to make sure the whole of the justice system is ready to take the increased numbers of prisoners that are going to be prosecuted and convicted over the coming days and weeks. I’ve been assured by the Department of Justice that there is that capacity, because it’s very important we get people who’ve offended out of police cells into the court system and, yes, in many cases into prison. That will happen and we have the capacity to make sure that does happen.
In terms of the prison estate, it always has to respond to what sentences actually pass. If they want to send more people to prison, the government has an obligation to provide those places and it will do so.
Prime Minister, do you accept that you and the police were perhaps too slow to react to the seriousness of the events that we’ve seen across the country?
I think what is the case is we’ve been dealing with something that is new. I’ve been discussing this with the police. We’ve always faced in this country, as in other countries, sometimes problems of public disorder, sometimes problems of looting and vandalism. That is a persistent problem, but what we have faced on these last few nights is a lot of different people doing the same thing in different places but at the same time. That has been immensely challenging for the police, and I think the police would accept - as everyone involved would accept - there are major lessons to learn about how we make sure we are really well prepared for events like this, both now and in the future. It is a huge challenge to our police. You have to meet many challenges. We meet in COBRA, we discuss problems we face in terms of terrorism, we discuss problems we face in terms of the Olympics, but this problem - as I say - of the different people doing the same thing, aggressive violent looting, in different parts of the country and the capital at the same time has been a new challenge. We’ll have to learn the lessons, police tactics and action may have to change, but what I’ve set in train is a process to make sure that happens not just in the future, but right now to try to keep more Londoners and others in our country safe.
Can I thank you all very much for coming. As I said, there will be a Cabinet meeting tomorrow, a COBRA meeting tomorrow, a statement in the House of Commons, a debate as well, where many more of these questions can be asked and indeed answered. Thank you.