Boris Johnson has been on the end of a backlash to his 'police wall' backdrop in Wakefield, West Yorkshire on Thursday, with Labour and police criticising the way the prime minister's address was arranged.
During a speech addressing Brexit and railing against Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn, the Prime Minister stood in front of rows of uniformed police officers.
The 'wall' was used to accentuate another theme of his address, which was a government commitment to increase police numbers by 20,000. A total of 35 new recruits stood behind Johnson at West Yorkshire Police's training complex.
The West Yorkshire Police Chief Constable John Robins said that he was "disappointed" to see his officers used in such a way.
In a statement released on Friday, Mr Robins said: "It was the understanding of West Yorkshire Police that any involvement of our officers was solely about police officer recruitment. We had no prior knowledge that the speech would be broadened to other issues until it was delivered."
"I was therefore disappointed to see my police officers as a backdrop to the part of the speech that was not related to recruitment," Robins added.
John Apter, the national chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales, also took aim at Johnson, saying that he was "surprised" that police officers had become props "for a political speech."
"I am sure that on reflection all concerned will agree that this was the wrong decision and it is disappointing that the focus has been taken away from the recruitment of 20,000 officers," Apter told the Times.
The Labour Party has called on Johnson to apologise and called it a 'political stunt.'
Labour MP Yvette Cooper attacked Johnson on Twitter for using the police to make a political statement.
— Yvette Cooper (@YvetteCooperMP) September 5, 2019
Fellow Labour MP Wes Streeting also called on Boris Johnson to apologise.
— Wes Streeting MP (@wesstreeting) September 6, 2019
The decision to use police officers in a televised speech even led to accusations of 'Trumpian'-style manoeuvring.
— Granny and Grandad (@grannygrandad) September 5, 2019
The comment refers to US President Donald Trump's tendency to pose with police and military officers.
— Nichola🦋😺🌹 (@Ms_Nichola) September 6, 2019
Johnson also came under fire for his reaction to one of the police women almost collapsing following a lengthy delay to the start of his speech.
As the officer slowly sat down to stop her from falling over, Mr Johnson noticed and said: 'I'm so sorry, OK that is a signal for me actively to wind up."
He promptly finished his speech before answering questions.
Mr Johnson and the rest of the police subsequently tended to the officer.
— Dawn Foster (@DawnHFoster) September 5, 2019
The shift by the Conservative leadership towards increased support for police funding and numbers comes after long-term criticism of the party for cutting the police budget and rising crime rates.
Then Home Secretary Theresa May announced a 20% cut to police numbers in 2012 with police chiefs subsequently accusing her directly of being responsible for the rise in violent crime.
Cuts of £400 million are reported to have resulted in the closing of almost half of London’s police stations at the same time as a knife crime epidemic plagues the UK's major cities.
A study published in 2018 by the British Medical Journal found a "sharp increase" in 14 — 16-year-olds ending up in Accident and Emergency wards due to knife crime.