Government chief whip Andrew Mitchell has apologised to a police officer he is said to have insulted during a foul-mouthed rant in Downing Street.

Mr Mitchell said sorry for the "disrespectful" comments in a telephone call.

The move came after police groups and Labour questioned whether Mr Mitchell could hang on to his job after details emerged of the confrontation earlier this week.

According to The Sun, the MP reacted angrily after being told he was not allowed to cycle out of Downing Street. He apparently branded the officers "plebs" for not letting him use the main gates on Wednesday and said they should "learn your f****** place".

Mr Mitchell, who became chief whip in the reshuffle earlier this month, has denied using some of the reported language but apologised for not treating the police with proper respect.

A Cabinet Office spokesman said the officer had accepted Mr Mitchell's apology. No formal complaint has been filed over the politician's behaviour. The spokesman said: "He spoke with the officer in question this morning over the telephone and made an apology, and that apology was accepted."

Mr Mitchell apparently pulled out of a speaking engagement in Reading as news of the row broke. The event for business figures had been organised by local Tory MP Rob Wilson.

The Police Federation of England and Wales, which represents rank-and-file officers, said it was "hard to fathom how someone who holds the police in such contempt could be allowed to hold a public office".

Paul McKeever, the federation's chairman, said: "Mr Mitchell's half-hearted apology for the comments made whilst leaving Downing Street will do little to build bridges with the police, who feel they have once again been treated with a lack of respect and civility by members of this Government."

Prime Minister David Cameron described the confrontation as "wrong", saying: "What Andrew Mitchell said and what he did was not appropriate. It was wrong and it is right that he has apologised".