No 10 said street harassment “remains a top priority” after comments by a close ally of the Prime Minister’s wife suggested that the move had stalled.
Nimco Ali, a friend of Carrie Johnson and a Government adviser on preventing violence against women and girls, told the BBC’s Political Thinking podcast she had experienced “pushback” over her campaign to punish those who wolf-whistle, catcall or persistently stare at women on the street with on-the-spot fines.
But Ms Ali hit back at a suggestion made by podcast host Nick Robinson that she had blamed Boris Johnson for any reluctance to go ahead with the policy.
Mr Robinson tweeted that the “PM’s adviser & Carrie’s best friend blames him for blocking new law to ban street harassment”.
Quoting his post, Ms Ali, who Home Secretary Priti Patel appointed as an adviser to her department in 2020, fired back: “I am (the) Home Secretary’s independent adviser as I corrected you on the podcast and I did not blame him for this.
“Honestly I talked about almost dying from FGM (female genital mutilation) and wanting a better world for girls and this is what you go with.”
Downing Street pointed to Ms Ali’s social media message and said the UK Government was still considering how a “specific offence” could address the concerns she had outlined.
Speaking on the podcast, Ms Ali said street harassment was having a “massive detriment” on women’s health “on a day to day basis”.
“For me, I would specifically love (for) public sexual harassment to become a crime,” she added.
“One of the things that I’ve seen is that a department and a Secretary of State can have an opinion and then there can be other things (where there is) pushback.”
She clarified in a follow-up answer that it was “other people” who were behind the delays, pointing to the need for Cabinet responsibility where all senior ministers have to conventionally get behind a Government policy.
“I do think that there is at times a very masculine conversation in how Government and institutions work, so we need to be able to address that,” the campaigner said.
Ms Ali concluded by saying the “Home Secretary and other people within the Home Office are very much behind it”.
Mr Robinson wrapped up that part of the interview by saying: “Yes, I’m going to assume that the Prime Minister is not in this case”.
Ms Ali did not offer a reply to the remark.
A No 10 spokesman, asked about the comments, said: “I would point to a tweet from Nimco this morning where she addresses that and says ‘I did not blame him’, referring to the Prime Minister.”
Pressed whether an offence of street harassment is still being considered, he said: “We will continue to look at where there may be gaps and how a specific offence could address those.
“I’m not going to get into specifics but as I say this remains a top priority for this Government.”
He said he was “not aware” of any conversations between Ms Ali and No 10 before she posted the tweet, but stressed that Ms Ali said she did not blame the Prime Minister.
Asked who then she was blaming, he said: “I can’t speculate or speak on her behalf.”