Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 22 August 2019

British ‘yellow vest’ protesters abuse MP and journalists outside Parliament

Questions raised about why police outside Parliament did not appear to protect targets from harassment

James Goddard is a  key figure in pro-Brexit protests outside the UK Parliament. Twitter
James Goddard is a  key figure in pro-Brexit protests outside the UK Parliament. Twitter

As British MPs returned from the Christmas recess to restart the debate about Brexit, hard-right protesters outside Parliament verbally abused Remain-supporting Conservative MP Anna Soubry and left-wing journalist Owen Jones.

Ms Soubry was appearing on the BBC when her interview was disrupted by chants of “Anna Soubry is a Nazi”. She was subsequently surrounded by protesters wearing yellow vests who continued to bombard her with questions and at one point appeared to stop her re-entering Parliament.

The same mob, fronted by organiser James Goddard, also aggressively pursued Mr Jones, calling him a “horrible little man” and a “bully”. The group have also targeted Sky News presenter Kay Burley, shouting out that she was a “liar” while she broadcast live from opposite the Palace of Westminster.

WARNING: OFFENSIVE LANGUAGE IS USED IN THIS VIDEO

More than 50 MPs have now written to Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick highlighting "serious concerns" about the "deteriorating public order and security situation".

Police said they were assessing third-party reports of public order offences to see if crimes had been committed.

“If a crime has been committed the matter will be fully investigated," said Deputy Assistant Commissioner Laurence Taylor. "There has been no arrest at this stage."

College Green, close to Parliament, has become a media circus as the deadline for legislation to pass the House of Commons approaches. Major broadcasters have scaffolding towers set up to provide a backdrop of Parliament, and the green is full of tents for radio stations and other organisations.

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Pro and anti-Brexit activists gather on the fringes of the green and along Abingdon Street, waving banners and exhorting motorists to hoot if they support either cause.

On many days there is a good-natured atmosphere between the rival demonstrators, many of whom have been there for months.

However, since December a group of hardcore protesters has emerged which has more sinister motives. Ostensibly pro-Brexit, the group – which appears to be led by Mr Goddard, a supporter of right-wing activist Tommy Robinson, who livestreams the protests to followers – has tried to intimidate MPs and journalists.

WARNING: OFFENSIVE LANGUAGE IS USED IN THIS VIDEO

Mr Jones, a keen supporter of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, was the first to be publicly abused when he was heckled during an interview and then taunted by a gang of five men, who hurled homophobic abuse.

Later that month, the group began to go after Ms Burley, shouting misogynist abuse at the Sky News anchor during a live TV broadcast. They also said that Sky’s political editor, Faisal Islam, was “not British” and claimed that he was “a rapist”.

On December 20, Ms Soubry was first harassed by Mr Goddard’s group, who told her that she was “a traitor to the country” and said that she was on “the side of Adolf Hitler”, with Mr Goddard later saying on Twitter that she was a “morally repugnant scumbag”.

At the time, Ms Soubry demanded that police clamp down on the protesters, asking: “What happens if one of those people had a knife, or a handgun? The police say, ‘Oh, they’re protesters, so they’re fine.’ But they’re doing something in your face, calling you a … traitor, lots of other weird stuff.”

The abuse was raised in Parliament on Monday following the latest incidents, as Labour MP Mary Creagh said the “vile, misogynist thuggery, abuse and harassment” evoked memories of the murder of her colleague Jo Cox by a far-right terrorist during the Brexit referendum campaign 2016.

Commons speaker John Bercow told MPs: “Peaceful protest is a vital democratic freedom, but so is the right of elected members to go about their business without being threatened or abused, and that includes access to and from the media stands in Abingdon Green.

“I am concerned at this stage about what seem to be a pattern of protest targeted in particular – I don’t say exclusively – at women.”

Lord Adonis, a former Cabinet minister, wrote to police on Monday to ask what the force was doing to protect MPs and journalists from being harassed outside Parliament.

Questions were raised on social media about why police officers outside Parliament did not appear to be offering those being targeted any particular protection in the videos that were widely shared.

Updated: January 8, 2019 03:46 PM

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