Picking a fight with the UK's top cop is probably not a sensible move

Rishi Sunak has essentially told Met Police Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley that if there's violence at the pro-Palestine march in London on Saturday, it's his fault.

But it's a petulant response to Sir Mark's defiance in the face of the enormous pressure from the PM and other ministers for the Armistice Day march to be banned.

Picking a fight with the UK's top cop is probably not the most sensible move for a prime minister or home secretary - especially for a Conservative.

Remember the Tories' claim to be the party of law and order?

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The only targets for attack that might have been more unwise would be the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Pope, Harry Kane, David Beckham or a national treasure like Joanna Lumley.

Having said that, former England football manager Glenn Hoddle still claims Tony Blair hounded him out in 1999 after he said the disabled were being punished for sins committed in a previous life.

But once Suella Braverman had made her incendiary "hate marches" attack on pro-ceasefire protesters last week, the battlelines were drawn and the Tories declared war on Sir Mark.

The climax in this power struggle came when Mr Sunak summoned the commissioner to Downing Street on Wednesday in the hope - no doubt - of persuading him to back down and veto the march.

But he failed. Sir Mark stood his ground, and the PM - along with his fiercely combative home secretary - were forced into an embarrassing retreat.

The march goes ahead, and Mr Sunak has been outmanoeuvred.

Stepping back from the current dispute for a moment, what Met commissioner is going to admit to a prime minister that he or she can't police a big demo - however large - and protect the public?

Supporters of the demands for a ceasefire have argued that - despite some of the offensive slogans and allegations of intimidation - there are more arrests at Premier League football matches than these marches.

That's highly debatable. But the organisers of the Armistice Day march did help Sir Mark's defiant stand by pledging to stay away from the Cenotaph in Whitehall and wait nearly two hours until after the two-minute silence before they begin.

Even before the Downing Street showdown, Mr Sunak appeared to concede that he was losing the battle with Sir Mark.

"This is a decision that the Metropolitan Police commissioner has made," said the PM.

"He has said that he can ensure that we safeguard remembrance for the country this weekend as well as keep the public safe."

Then the prime minister declared: "Now, my job is to hold him accountable for that."

That sounded very much like a threat. And no doubt if there is serious violence on Saturday, Mr Sunak - and his controversial home secretary - will gloat: "Told you so!"

In a tetchy statement admitting defeat after the Downing Street meeting, Mr Sunak talked rather sheepishly about the freedom of the right to protest peacefully.

Yet at the same time, he repeated his claim that the protest was disrespectful and offensive to the memory of Britain's war heroes.

And then, in a bizarre comment, he said the commissioner had committed to keep the Met's "posture" under constant review based on the latest intelligence about the nature of the protests.

Posture? That's a loaded word. Was Mr Sunak suggesting Sir Mark had been posturing in his stand-off with the government?

Despite all his talk about policing of the march being an operational matter for the Met, if the PM is indeed guilty of misjudgement in his strategy, who is to blame?

Many MPs will point the figure at his inflammatory home secretary, accused by Sir Keir Starmer in the King's Speech debate this week of pursuing a "divisive brand of politics ... as a platform for her own ambitions".

That was after Ms Braverman's "lifestyle choice" slur on the homeless sleeping in tents in town centres, which came just days after her "hate marches" attack.

Plenty of Tory MPs want Mr Sunak to sack his home secretary. Some even believe she's goading him into sack her so she can launch a Tory leadership bid.

Whatever her motives, if she's responsible for Mr Sunak's ill-judged attacks on Sir Mark and his force, she's done the PM no favours.

The Met chief will obviously be desperately hoping there isn't serious trouble at Saturday's march. Because he knows Mr Sunak - and Ms Braverman - will blame him and say it's his fault.