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Minister Suggests Public Body Should Defend MPs’ Right Not To Be "Bullied" And "Harassed"

Government Minister Steve Baker was followed and filmed by a pro-Palestinian activist on Saturday

3 min read

Government minister Steve Baker has said there is a case for an existing public body to remind activists that politicians are not “fair game” for “harassment, intimidation and bullying”.

Baker spoke to PoliticsHome about MPs' safety after he was confronted by a protestor over the weekend, which led him to contact the police. It is the second such incident the Northern Ireland minister has experienced since the war in the Middle East began.

Footage of the incident was viewed thousands of times on social media. Baker stressed the protester kept his distance and did not threaten him.

He told PoliticsHome he believed there was a case for a "neutral party" such as ACPO or the Electoral Commission to make it clear to the public and activists that the laws of harassment apply to MPs as well as British citizens equally.

“I think there is a case for an authoritative, independent body making clear to activists and the public at large that the law applies equally to Members of Parliament in all regards, including the way we are treated on the street. We are not fair game for harassment, intimidation and bullying,” he said.

Baker said a number of MPs have contacted and spoken to him about their experience of being followed and asked intrusive questions by activists. He said if a stranger follows an MP, there is an automatic concern the person might be carrying a knife. 

“I found that this is a common pattern amongst MPs. I've had a number of MPs now say that people are engaging in these behaviours, including asking about their children,” he said.

“And saying ‘it's okay because you're a public figure’? They're not entitled to ask about your children… the law of harassment applies to us like everybody else.”

Baker said he was also confronted after the Brexit referendum when an activist chased him down the street. The Wycombe MP thought he could have had a weapon in his pocket at the time.

“The most frightening occasion was in relation to Brexit, where a white British guy chased me down in one of our areas, and was standing absolutely quaking with rage, with his hands thrust deep into his pockets,” he said.

“And at the time, I genuinely feared that he had a knife and I didn't know what he was going to do… But that was a moment where the guy was so angry and had gone to such trouble to find me.

“Thankfully somebody I knew turned up in a car and said hello, so I just got in it and I left.”

Baker said he does not feel threatened by Steve Bray, a pro-Remain activist who stands outside Parliament.

Baker told PoliticsHome he put a 360-degree camera on his rucksack because of the activist. But Baker said he is confident that Bray – after filming him and asking a “few stupid questions” – will break off and eventually leave him alone.

The government minister has also called for people to be more careful with the type of language they use towards Parliamentarians on the street.

“I mean, society is a pressure cooker and we are the safety release valve. That is something a very wise police superintendent said to me a long time ago and  it's always helped me get through these pressures. I've now got an extremely thick skin,” he said.

“I think on the one hand as a member of parliament, I think nothing's changed in hundreds of years. We are the safety release valve on the pressure cooker of society."

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