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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 20 January 2019

Brexit debate reopens as far-right target peaceful protest outside parliament

A far-right activist interrupted The National's filming to shout abuse at a Remain protester

British parliamentarians began debating prime minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal on Wednesday amid calls for police to improve their response to far-right activists abusing MPs, journalists and Remain-supporting protesters in Westminster.

More than 100 MPs have written to police asking for better protection after Conservative MP Anna Soubry was verbally abused on College Green, an area used by the media for interviewing politicians which has become a place for protesters to gather.

Anti-Brexit protester Steve Bray has been peacefully demonstrating outside parliament every day MPs have been sitting since September 5, 2017.

Mr Bray has gained near celebrity status after his “Stop Brexit” cries and anti-Brexit banners became a regular feature of any news footage shot outside parliament.

But the fame has led to Mr Bray becoming a target of far-right activists, inspired by the gilet jaunes protesters in France attempting to hijack the pro-Brexit movement.

“The atmosphere here was pretty easy going originally,” he said. “But we’ve had abuse day in day out from the same group since three weeks before Christmas.”

When The National interviewed Mr Bray near College Green on Tuesday afternoon, a far-right activist, believed to be from the yellow vest movement, attempted to disrupt the filming by shouting abuse.

At one point the man, wearing a union jack hat, moved aggressively towards Mr Bray before being pulled back by members of the public.

“I’m used to it by now,” Mr Bray said as nearby police ensured the man was moved on. “That’s been daily.”

But other protesters are worried about the increasing levels of harassment. Some of the Remain demonstrators The National spoke to asked not to be featured on camera for fear of becoming a target.

Pro-Brexit campaigners are similarly concerned by the influx of far-right to their cause.

“When things turn nasty, that is not a protest,” said Simon who came up to Westminster from Surrey on Tuesday to demonstrate with campaign group Leave Means Leave.

Scotland Yard have said they will “deal robustly” with any instances of criminal harassment.

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Laurence Taylor said The Met would be “enhancing the policing presence” around parliament in the run up to next week’s Brexit deal vote.

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MPs resumed debating the government’s Brexit withdrawal agreement on Wednesday, almost a month after Mrs May postponed a crunch vote on her deal.

The vote, which will be preceded by five days of debate, has been rescheduled for January 15.

The government, fresh from an embarrassing defeat in the Commons on Tuesday evening, is struggling to win support for the deal.

Some Conservative MPs rebelled against Mrs May and joined the Labour Party in supporting an amendment to a finance bill, designed to limit the government’s powers in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

While efforts to convince the DUP, the Northern Irish party which Mrs May is reliant on for a parliamentary majority, of her Brexit deal have so far faltered.

The government is due to release a written statement on Wednesday promising to give Northern Ireland more powers if the controversial backstop agreement comes into force.

But before the statement had been published, it was dismissed by the DUP’s Brexit spokesman Sammy Wilson.

Mr Wilson told Sky News the proposals, which he had already seen, were “fairly meaningless” and would fail to allay his party’s concerns about the backstop.

Updated: January 9, 2019 06:32 PM

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