Police to step up Westminster security ahead of Brexit vote after MPs harassed
Scotland Yard said it would be ‘enhancing the policing presence’ ahead of the vote after politicians and journalists were targeted by protesters.
Police are to step up their operation around Parliament in the run up to next week’s Brexit deal vote after MPs were subjected to intimidation and harassment just yards from the Commons.
Deputy Assistant Commissioner Laurence Taylor said Scotland Yard would be “enhancing the policing presence” after MP Anna Soubry was branded a Nazi by a mob during television interviews and then followed to the Palace of Westminster.
The Commons Speaker demanded police tackle the “aggressive, threatening and intimidating behaviour” towards politicians and journalists outside Parliament.
In his letter to Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick John Bercow hit out at “toxic attacks” and called for officers to intervene when protesters overstepped the boundaries of peaceful protest.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said on Tuesday that the Cabinet had agreed that the abuse Ms Soubry suffered was “disgraceful and unacceptable”.
Mr Taylor said on Tuesday that police officers on duty outside Parliament had been given clear directions “that if they witness criminal behaviour then there is an expectation that an arrest will be made”.
He added: “We’ve reviewed our policing plan on the back of incidents yesterday. You will see a visible policing presence (near Parliament). We’ve had a policing presence there for a number of months with ongoing protest.
“We recognise the challenges there at the moment and certainly leading up to the vote next week we will be enhancing the policing presence and we will ensure that we have appropriate measures in place to attempt as far as possible to reassure people that they can go about their lives without fear of harassment or alarm.”
The force is assessing whether any crime was committed by the protesters who hurled abuse at Ms Soubry and campaigners Owen Jones and Femi Oluwole on Monday.
Protesters could be heard chanting “Soubry is a Nazi” as she appeared on BBC News from College Green, across the road from Parliament.
Protesters also chanted slogans including “Liar, liar” throughout a live interview she did with Sky News.
Earlier on Monday, political commentator Owen Jones shared a video on Twitter which showed him being accosted by a group outside Parliament, including men wearing Union flags.
They could be heard calling him a “traitor” and a “horrible little man” and accusing the Labour activist of writing “fake news”.
The incidents prompted a wave of criticism from politicians and commentators from across the political spectrum.
At Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting in Downing Street, ministers condemned the harassment suffered by Ms Soubry.
Theresa May told colleagues that “this is not how debate should be conducted in our country”, said the PM’s official spokesman.
Disgraceful for the Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay on @BBCr4today to suggest the abuse and intimidation @Anna_Soubry was subject to yesterday is a reason not to hold a democratic #PeoplesVote. The notion we should be intimidated into NOT holding democratic votes is deplorable.— Chuka Umunna (@ChukaUmunna) January 8, 2019
Meanwhile, Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay faced criticism after linking the abuse faced by Ms Soubry to the campaign for a second Brexit referendum.
Asked on BBC Radio 4’s Today about the prospect of a new vote he said: “That would be hugely damaging to democracy, to our politics.
“We saw in the appalling scenes outside Parliament in the way that my colleague Anna Soubry was disgracefully treated yesterday how divisive this process has been.”
Labour’s Chuka Umunna branded it “disgraceful”, adding: “The notion we should be intimidated into NOT holding democratic votes is deplorable.”
Ms Soubry told Good Morning Britain on Tuesday that while she anticipated a level of criticism and abuse as an MP, she expected authorities to act when it “crossed the line”.
She said: “It crossed the line in December, it was journalists who were being attacked.
“(Sky News’ political editor) Faisal Islam, who is male, was racially abused by these people, it’s the same group, all on video, and the policy of the Metropolitan Police is to ignore it.”
Mr Bercow said on Tuesday said he supported more than 50 MPs who also wrote to Ms Dick to express their “serious concerns” about the “deteriorating public order and security situation” outside Parliament.
In his letter to Ms Dick, the Speaker said: “It is, frankly, intolerable if Members of Parliament and journalists cannot go about their lawful business without being ritually insulted, abused, intimidated, threatened and harassed.
“There seems to be a pattern here of a regular coterie of burly white men who are effectively targeting and denouncing Members whom they recognise and dislike – most notably female and those from ethnic minority backgrounds.”
Mr Bercow added that he realised police had to balance the right to peaceful protest and intervention when things “turn sour”.
“However, it’s one thing demonstrating from a distance with placards, or calling out slogans – and another, where the protester invades the personal space of a Member, subjects him or her to a tirade of menacing, racist, sexist and misogynistic abuse, and follows them back to their place of work,” he went on.
“I politely suggest that the present situation is not only intolerable but untenable.”
Speaking in the Commons as the letter was published, Mr Bercow described the intimidation as “a type of fascism”.