British politicians have condemned a threat from the Metropolitan Police in London to prosecute journalists, who publish any leaked cables in their possession in the aftermath of a diplomatic scandal involving Britain’s ambassador to the U.S.
The Metropolitan Police announced on Friday that they were launching a criminal investigation into the leaking of diplomatic cables that led to the resignation on Wednesday of ambassador Kim Darroch, who said it had become “impossible” for him to do his job.
Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu called on whoever had leaked the cables to turn themselves in to authorities, but he also said that the publication of any remaining leaked cables “may also be a criminal matter.”
“I would advise all owners, editors and publishers of social and mainstream media not to publish leaked government documents that may already be in their possession, or which may be offered to them, and to turn them over to the police or give them back to their rightful owner, Her Majesty’s Government,” Basu said in a statement.
Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who is running to become leader of the Conservatives, tweeted that police were right to launch an investigation into the leaker, but added: “I 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: that is their job.”
Boris Johnson, who is the frontrunner to succeed Theresa May as prime minister, issued a similar comment during a leadership hustings on Saturday, according to the British Press Association.
“It cannot conceivably be right that newspapers or any other media
organization publishing such material face prosecution,” he said, noting that the leaked cables, while an embarrassment, did not constitute a threat to Britain’s national security.
In private diplomatic cables to London, leaked to the British weekly Mail on Sunday, Darroch sharply criticized the Trump administration and called it “dysfunctional.” Trump responded by calling Darroch a “very stupid guy” who was “foisted upon the United States” and saying he would no longer work with the British diplomat.
The police investigation comes after the British government said it would launch an inquiry into the damaging leak. Basu said the probe was being launched into whether there had been a criminal breach of Britain’s Official Secrets Act.
Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the opposition British Labour Party, took a more cautious stance, saying the leaked cables were “clearly a breach of information that should have been maintained as private” and that it was a “normal process” for police to be involved.
But he added: “Freedom of the press is vital, of course. There are rules around that and there are considerable protections for journalists who do reveal things and that, of course, is the right thing to do,” Corbyn said, according to the Press Association.