EXCL Top Tory blasts Brexit Secretary for 'legitimising mob rule and thugs' who abused Anna Soubry
A Tory former Cabinet minister has launched a searing attack on Stephen Barclay after he suggested MPs should avoid a second EU referendum if they want to end abuse from protesters.
Justine Greening said the Brexit Secretary was “excusing and legitimising mob rule” and the “thugs” who hurled insults at fellow MP Anna Soubry outside parliament yesterday.
Meanwhile, Conservative chair of the Health Select Committee Dr Sarah Wollaston accused the Brexit Secretary of using the attacks "as an excuse to avoid a democratic process".
Ms Soubry was called a “Nazi” and a “liar” by Brexiteer protesters as she was interviewed near the Palace of Westminster yesterday - and was later chased down the street being called a “fascist”.
Mr Barclay raised the issue as he argued that holding another EU referendum to break the Brexit deadlock in parliament would be “hugely damaging to our 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,” he told the Radio 4 Today programme.
“And I think it is time now, after what has been a difficult period of time, to come together in the national interest - to unite behind the only deal on the table.”
But his comments were met with a furious response from former education secretary and pro-EU MP Ms Greening, who asked: “What kind of country are we turning into?”
She told PoliticsHome: “What fuels the thugs who abused Anna Soubry is when ministers won’t outright condemn these thugs and their intimidation.
“That sends a dangerous message that ministers will take it into account in decisions. That’s called mob rule.
“It’s shocking and disgraceful that Ministers are somehow excusing and legitimising mob rule and those thugs. Their behaviour is against our democracy and freedom of speech, not part of it.”
She called on the Government to “stand up for democratic debate and the ballot box or accept mob rule”.
Dr Wollaston meanwhile told PoliticsHome: “This is orchestrated intimidation against MPs, journalists and members of the public that should not be tolerated. No-one should suggest that we should alter our democratic process simply to appease right-wing thuggery.
“[Stephen Barclay] shouldn’t be using the situation that faces Anna Soubry and [journalists] Kay Burley and Owen Jones outside parliament as an excuse to avoid a democratic process. The right thing to do is to challenge that kind of behaviour head on because use it is wholly unacceptable.”
Meanwhile, pro-EU campaigner and Labour MP Chuka Umunna blasted on Twitter: “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.”
His ally Ben Bradshaw added: “Disgraceful comments from rookie #brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay claiming the attacks on @Anna_Soubry are reason not to have a #peoplesvote on May’s botched deal. Since when has Britain give in to fascist thugs?”
And SNP MP Stewart McDonald weighed in to say: “Quite possibly the most spineless response imaginable from Barclay when asked about the intimidation and abuse of one of his own colleagues.
“With that record it’s easy to work out why he got his job in government.”
Elsewhere, Green MP Caroline Lucas said ministers should be “joining us in standing up to bullying & intimidation - not being complicit with it”.
At least 55 parliamentarians have since signed a letter to Met Police chief Cressida Dick after Speaker John Bercow called on officers to do more to guard MPs following criticism of their lack of response.
Ms Soubry said after her ordeal last night: “Apparently MPs & politicians are meant to accept it as part of the democratic process.
“I fail to see why journalists and technicians should be subjected to the same abuse & intimidation as the police stand by and do nothing. They tried to stop me getting into Parliament.”
Left-wing political commentator Owen Jones was also confronted by the group, and filmed them dishing out a raft of insults towards him as he walked around the same area.
The comdemnation from MPs came as the Metropolitan Police defended its handling of the protests as "appropriate" and confirmed that officers were continue to investigate whether "any crimes have been committed" during yesterday's flare-up.
Deputy Assistant Commissioner Laurence Taylor said: "If a crime has been committed the matter will be fully investigated. There has been no arrest at this stage."
He added: "An ongoing policing operation at the parliamentary estate around Brexit continues and we have an appropriate policing plan in place. Our role is to facilitate peaceful protest and balance the needs and rights of all those present, including protestors, MPs and members of the public.
"We will deal robustly with incidents of harassment and abuse against anyone where that harassment or abuse constitutes a criminal offence.
"Officers in the area have been briefed to intervene appropriately where they hear or see breaches of the law."