By Paul Goodman
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Andrew Mitchell's piece in today's Financial Times about Britain and the Europe will do nothing to quell rumours that David Cameron will appoint him as an EU Commissioner: I suspect that the former International Development Secretary wrote it with a twinkle in his eye. But either way, the article is a reminder that Mitchell is very much around and about, and it raises – as it was surely meant to – memories of his past. That's to say, of "PlebGate" (or, as I will always think of it, "PoliceGate"), and questions about his future.
It is almost four months to the day since Mitchell's resignation. Since then, four people have been arrested about the claims which forced it – including three police officers. There is a misconduct investigation into four other officers, three of whom have been placed on restricted duties. An account of the original incident sent in an e-mail which eventually reached Downing Street turned out to be untrue. All in all, there is every reason to believe that Mitchell was unjustly removed from the Cabinet.
Since this is so, it follows that he should be returned to it – as I wrote immediately after the first Dispatches programme into his case. The restoration of Mitchell will admittedly create a headache for David Cameron. He carried out a medium-scale Cabinet reshuffle last summer, and it isn't obvious who might be asked to leave this year. The one member who is very likely to go – Sir George Young – will leave a vacancy that Mitchell shouldn't fill. I was never a fan of the plan to make my old Select Committee colleague Chief Whip.
Since he is an intelligent and purposeful politician (as well as being more sensitive than he likes to let on), what Mitchell would do best is run a Department again. His experience in government points him towards the international development/foreign affairs/defence/Northern Ireland nexus, but the details are less important than the principle. Which is that Cameron should confirm that Mitchell will indeed be recalled to Cabinet at the next reshuffle. This doesn't necessarily require a Prime Ministerial announcement; a briefing from Downing Street would be enough.
When should this happen? Mitchell's supporters will argue that it should have taken place already. Others might point to the conclusion of any trial. (It is claimed that charges are imminent.) That in turn raises timing problems about whether a trial would take place before or after this year's reshuffle: one will surely take place, even if it is fairly small-scale. My view is if charges are brought Number 10 could reasonably brief that Mitchell would be returned to Cabinet: after all, it's evident that he has been the victim of an injustice.