Police faced mounting criticism last night after they stood by when a pro-EU MP was verbally abused by protesters outside the Commons. Anna Soubry
Police faced mounting criticism last night after they stood by when a pro-EU MP was verbally abused by protesters outside the Commons.
Anna Soubry, who supports a second Brexit referendum, was forced to stop talking during a BBC interview while people off camera shouted: ‘Soubry is a Nazi’.
The MP for Broxtowe in Nottinghamshire then made her way back to Parliament, pursued by a yellow vest wearing mob shouting ‘Anna, you’re a fascist’.
While protesters crowded around her, pointing and yelling in her face, Soubry pointed out the presence of two police officers across the road – who do nothing to help her.
Even as she reached the gates of parliament she is blocked from entering by the group, which included far-right activist James Goddard, as further officers stand mere yards away without intervening.
Speaking about the incident to Good Morning Britain, Ms Soubry said: ‘The police just stood there. The police were there. It’s a definite breach of the peace.
‘The policy of the Metropolitan Police is to ignore it and that is the problem.
‘This particular group of people is roaming around Westminster intimating people and they are known to police, blocking bridges and setting things off at Downing Street.’
After the incident, which was criticised by both Remain and Leave MPs, Scotland Yard confirmed they were looking into it and deciding whether or not a crime had been committed.
Now at least 55 MPs have signed a letter to Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick raising concerns about safety outside Parliament – just three years after Labour MP Jo Cox was murdered in her constituency.
The letter said: ‘After months of peaceful and calm protests by groups representing a range of political views on Brexit, an ugly element of individuals with strong far right and extreme right connections, which your officers are well aware of, have increasingly engaged in intimidatory and potentially criminal acts targeting Members of Parliament, journalists, activists and members of the public.
‘We understand there are ongoing investigations but there appears to be an ongoing lack of coordination in the response from the police and appropriate authorities including with Westminster borough policing, and despite clear assurances this would be dealt with following incidents before Christmas, there have been a number of further serious and well publicised incidents today.’
It added: ‘The ability to peacefully protest and express views outside Parliament is a cherished part of our democracy – and we want to retain the right for those who have conducted themselves within the law and a peaceful way to continue to do so.
‘It is however utterly unacceptable for Members of Parliament, journalists, activists and members of the public to be subject to abuse, intimidation and threatening behaviour and indeed potentially serious offences while they go about their work.
‘Many of these concerns have been repeatedly raised both with officers on the ground, and at senior levels with over the past weeks since the situation worsened, as well as with the parliamentary authorities and ministers and so it is obviously concerning to have to write to you formally in this regard.’
Concerns over safety around Parliament come after Jo Cox was brutally murdered while on her way to meet constituents in Birstall, West Yorkshire.
The mother-of-two was shot and stabbed by a man with links to far-right political groups including the English Defence League and the National Front.
He targeted the Labour MP just a week before the EU referendum, and shouted ‘Britain first’ before launching his attack.
Many MPs took to Twitter to express their disgust at the incident, while others raised the issue in the Commons.
Last night, Miss Soubry tweeted: ‘I fail to see why journalists and technicians should be subjected to the same abuse and intimidation as the police stand by and do nothing.’ And she called for the protesters to be prosecuted under public order legislation.
Labour MP Mary Creagh said the ‘really vile, misogynistic thuggery’ shown was not an isolated incident, while her colleague Stephen Doughty called for ‘proper action’ to be taken by Scotland Yard.
Tory MP Nick Boles said on Twitter: ‘Far be it from me to tell the police their job but I thought that threatening violence was an arrestable offence under the Public Order Act 1986.’
Labour frontbencher Angela Rayner added: ‘What has our country come to when watching BBC News all you can hear is chants from protesters calling Anna Soubry a Nazi. How disgusting and offensive: they do their causes no good!’
After the issue was raised in the Commons, Speaker John Bercow said he was aware of incidents ‘involving aggressive and threatening behaviour towards members and others by assorted protesters’.
Mr Bercow said it was a matter for the Met Police rather than Parliamentary authorities as it happened in the street, but added: ‘Female members, and in a number of cases I’m advised, female journalists have been subjected to aggressive protest and what many would regard as harassment.
‘I can assure the House that I am keeping a close eye on events and I will speak to those who advise me about these matters.’
During the BBC interview, Miss Soubry told journalist Simon McCoy: ‘I do object to being called a Nazi, actually. I just think this is astonishing, this is what has happened to our country. But let’s try and move on and be positive about things.’
Protesters also chanted slogans including ‘Liar, liar’ throughout a live interview by Miss Soubry on Sky News.