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Minister Claims Boris Johnson’s False Savile Claim Is “Not To Blame” For Keir Starmer Harassment

Sir Keir Starmer was surrounded by protesters in Westminster last night repeating Boris Johnson's discredited claim he failed to prosecute Jimmy Savile (Alamy)

4 min read

A minister has said Boris Johnson is not to blame for the harassment of Keir Starmer by a mob of protesters, despite the fact they repeated the Prime Minister's discredited claim that Starmer failed to prosecute Jimmy Savile.

The group of anti-vaccine protesters surrounded the Labour leader and shadow foreign secretary David Lammy in Westminster yesterday, accusing Starmer of "protecting paedophiles” before they had to be escorted away in a police car.

Last night a number of senior Conservative MPs and cabinet ministers condemned the incident, without drawing a connection to comments made by Johnson in the Commons last week in which he falsely accused Starmer of failing to prosecute sex offender Savile while he was head of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). 

This morning technology minister Chris Philp echoed their implicit defence of Johnson, and said he did not believe the incident was the result of the Prime Minister’s claim in the Commons last week.

Johnson has clarified the remarks since last week's Commons debate, acknowledging that Starmer himself was not directly involved in the Savile decision, but has failed to apologise for the initial comment.

Protesters were heard shouting “traitor” and "why did you let Jimmy Savile off?” in video footage of the incident. 

Tory and Labour MPs who hold the Prime Minister's comments responsible for yesterday's harassment have issued a renewed call for Johnson to withdraw the comments and say sorry

Philp rejected the suggestion that the incident was a result of Johnson's comments. "I don't think you can say that's why it happened,” he told Sky News.

“The people involved in that fracas have previously done similar things to people like Michael Gove and BBC journalist Nick Watt.

"They did mention Jimmy Savile. They also mentioned Julian Assange repeatedly, they mentioned Covid, they also mentioned the opposition more generally.

"I don't think you can point to what the Prime Minister said as the cause of that. You certainly can't blame him for the fact that that mob were clearly behaving in a totally unacceptable way."

Philp later told the BBC he accepted Johnson's comments “were capable of being misconstrued”, but pointed again to his clarification. 

"He was not suggesting at any time that Keir Starmer had personal responsibility for the case,” the minister added. 

"I don't think there is any way you can reasonably suggest that the comments on Keir Starmer's overall responsibility for the CPS in any way provoked the very unseemly and totally unacceptable harassment we saw last night.”

Last night Johnson issued a statement describing the behaviour directed at the Labour leader as “absolutely disgraceful”. 

“All forms of harassment of our elected representatives are completely unacceptable,” he tweeted. 

But multiple Conservative MPs, including several former Cabinet ministers, have called on Johnson again to go further and explicitly apologise for the original claim.

A senior Downing Street source has told the BBC that the Prime Minister has no intention of apologising. 

They told the broadcaster it was unreasonable to suggest what happened "was Boris's fault and not the mob's fault”, adding that Johnson's tweet about the incident "was sincere".

Brendan Cox, the widower of murdered Labour MP Jo Cox, believed it was "very hard to draw a direct link” between the mobbing of Starmer and the Prime Minister’s comments.

"However, it's also true that if you inject poison into politics, that has a whole set of unintended consequences that people will react to in different ways and at times that can lead over into intimidation," he told Radio 4’s Today programme. 

"It can lead over to violence, it can lead over into extremism."

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