Downing Street slaps down Brexit Secretary after he 'legitimised thugs' who abused Anna Soubry

Posted On: 
8th January 2019

Downing Street has slapped down Stephen Barclay after he sparked outrage from Tory MPs by saying they should avoid a second EU referendum if they want to end abuse from protesters.

A spokesperson for the Prime Minister issued a veiled swipe at the Cabinet minister
Credit: 
PA Images

A spokesperson for Theresa May said he would view calls for a fresh vote and the intimidating behaviour from pro-Brexit campaigners as "separate issues".

It came after Mr Barclay was accused of “excusing and legitimising mob rule” and the “thugs” who hurled insults at fellow MP Anna Soubry outside parliament yesterday.

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Ms Soubry was called a “Nazi” and a “liar” by Brexiteer protesters as she was interviewed near the Palace of Westminster - 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 a Downing Street spokesman said: "I would view those two things as separate issues."

He added that at a Cabinet meeting this morning, ministers "condemned the disgraceful treatment of Anna Soubry outside of parliament yesterday".

"The Prime Minister said this was not how debate should be conducted in our country," he said.

'MOB RULE'

The comments by Mr Barclay were also met with a furious response from former education secretary and pro-EU MP Justine 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.”

Tory chair of the Health Select Committee Dr Sarah Wollaston meanwhile told PoliticsHome: "No-one should suggest that we should alter our democratic process simply to appease right-wing thuggery."

Other pro-EU MPs such as Labour figures Chuka Umunna and Ben Bradshaw and SNP MP Stewart McDonald also weighed in to condemn the comments by Mr Barclay.

'TYPE OF FASCISM'

Elsewhere, Commons Speaker John Bercow upped his attack on the protesters as he branded their abusive behaviour “a type of fascism” that was targeting female and ethnic minorities in particular.

“I don’t say that they’re the only people on the receiving end of this completely unacceptable behaviour but they have been and are being deliberately and disproportionately targeted,” he told MPs.

“And that is not acceptable and we have to make sure that something is done about it.”

He revealed he had written to the Metropolitan Police demanding the force boosts security around Parliament to end the “intolerable” situation.

It comes after around 60 MPs wrote to Met chief Cressida Dick urging better protection of MPs and journalists who get caught up with the protesters.

The force has put more officers around the Palace of Westminster today and insisted it will “deal robustly with incidents of harassment and abuse against anyone where that harassment or abuse constitutes a criminal offence”.