Law to make street harassment like wolf whistles a crime blocked at the top of government

An independent adviser and friend of the PM’s wife, Nimco Ali, did not name Boris Johnson but said the “pushback” against a public sexual harassment law was “much closer” than his advisers

Sources had previously refused to rule out a crackdown on wolf whistles and whistles (stock image)
Sources had previously refused to rule out a crackdown on wolf whistles and whistles (stock image)

Laws making sexual harassment in public a crime will be blocked by top government officials, an independent adviser warned today.

Home Office plans last year could have made wolf whistle and whistling a criminal offense and passed new specific laws for the most serious street nuisances.

But the plan was barely mentioned for six months – after Boris Johnson complained that new crimes were “increasing” problems for police.

Now Nimco Ali, the Home Office’s adviser on violence against women and girls and a close friend of the PM’s wife Carrie, has warned there is “backlash” against the idea.

Asked if Mr Johnson’s advisers were to blame, she told the BBC’s Nick Robinson: “I think it’s a lot closer than that” and “You can learn from my silence, you know, however you do it.” want to express”.

She later denied blaming Boris Johnson directly, but told a podcast: “There’s a very manly conversation at times where government and how government and institutions work.

“So we need to be able to address that.”

Nimco Ali (right) with Boris Johnson at an event in Westminster

Last July, Home Secretary Priti Patel said she would examine “gaps in existing law” to see if more can be done to ensure women “have confidence that their concerns are being taken seriously”.

Government sources did not rule out extending new legislation to include wolf whistles and whistles, although no decisions had yet been made.

But Boris Johnson appeared to thwart the plans in October when he said: “I think we should be prosecuting people for the crimes that we have in the statute book.

“That’s what I’m concentrating on. In all honesty, if you increase the scope of what you ask of the police, you will only increase the problems.”

Reports later claimed Home Secretary Priti Patel was furious that the move was blocked.

A source told the Observer at the time: “Make no mistake, Boris Johnson is the person blocking and holding this back. He seems stuck in the past on this issue.”

Another stressed that the powers would have gone well beyond wolf whistles and whistles.

Ms Ali said Home Secretary Priti Patel supports legislation against public sexual harassment


POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Ms Ali told Political Thinking with Nick Robinson that “a lot of people” came to a different conclusion than the Home Secretary.

“I would especially love it if public sexual harassment became a crime,” she said, “other things being[where there is]pushback,” she said, before clarifying that the pushback came from “other people.”

Mr Robinson asked: “When you say, a lot of people, wait, you’re the government adviser, you have the home secretary’s support, I’m trying to figure out why it’s not happening.

“Is it because people at the top of government, is it these people at No. 10 who are advising the PM and saying, ‘I’m not sure I would have that argument if I were you?’

She replied, “Well, I’ll still argue. So the whole point, I think that’s my key in being an Independent Consultant.

Nimco Ali said she would love it if public sexual harassment was a crime



“I think that we are actually dismantling society and we are allowing young women to be exposed to lived experiences that will do massive damage to their health in everyday life.”

Mr Robinson continued: “However, what I want to achieve is it the kind of political advisers, is it the people who are trying to win elections for the Tory party, who don’t have that argument, it’s not a row, you want, that doesn’t get any votes?

Ms Ali replied: “I think it’s much closer than that.

“Obviously I’ve become reasonably comfortable with avoiding the question, so as you know, that’s up to this point, so you can take from my silence, you know how you want to put it.

“But I can say that the Home Secretary and other people in the Home Office are very behind it.”

After the wide-ranging podcast was released, Ms Ali told Mr Robinson on Twitter: “I didn’t blame him for it.

“Honestly I’ve talked about almost dying from FGM and wanting a better world for girls and that’s what you do.”

The strategy came last July following a public consultation that witnessed 180,000 people, the vast majority during a two-week period following Sarah Everard’s murder.

It also pledged to examine whether street design features could help improve personal safety among the public, while it will also test an online tool called StreetSafe, which allows members of the public to anonymously highlight places where they feel particularly at risk.

And it included measures including a public campaign “focused on creating behavior change” that the government hopes will tackle misogyny in society, as well as pledges to ensure police know how to do it respond effectively to allegations.

At the time, Ms Patel said: “The safety of women and girls across the country, wherever they are, is my absolute priority.

“It is unacceptable that women and girls are still subject to harassment, abuse and violence, and I do not accept that violence against women and girls is inevitable.”

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