Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has been bundled into the back of a police car after being confronted by protesters shouting “traitor” and “Jimmy Savile” at him.
The incident brought fresh condemnation of Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who last week made a discredited claim that Sir Keir personally failed to prosecute Savile, a prolific sex offender.
In video footage posted on social media, the Labour leader was seen walking near to Parliament surrounded by police officers while being mobbed by a group, some of whom were protesting against COVID measures.
At one point in the footage, a member of the group surrounding Sir Keir, was overheard making a baseless claim, by shouting: “Why did you let Jimmy Savile off?”
While one of the group, supporters of what they called a “freedom convoy” and “freedom movement”, was heard accusing the Labour leader of “protecting paedophiles”.
Moments after the incident, Sir Keir was led to a nearby police car before being driven away at speed with the vehicle’s lights flashing.
Conservative MP Julian Smith, who served as a cabinet minister under Mr Johnson, posted on Twitter: “What happened to Keir Starmer tonight outside parliament is appalling.
“It is really important for our democracy and for his security that the false Savile slurs made against him are withdrawn in full.”
Responding to Mr Smith, fellow Tory MP Robert Largan – who was elected to parliament as part of Mr Johnson’s landslide 2019 general election victory – said: “I agree with Julian. Words matter.
“What we say and how we say it echoes out far beyond parliament. It can have serious real world consequences.
“Elected representatives have a responsibility to lower the temperature of debate, not add fuel to the fire.”
Senior Conservative backbencher Sir Roger Gale, who has submitted a letter of no confidence in Mr Johnson, expressed his fear that the “grim scenes” were “the direct result of the deliberately careless use of language” in the Commons chamber.
Tobias Ellwood, another senior Tory MP who wants a confidence vote on Mr Johnson’s leadership, called on the prime minister to apologise and added: “Let’s stop this drift towards a Trumpian style of politics from becoming the norm. We are better than this.”
‘Johnson has no moral compass’
Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey tweeted: “These are shocking images. Sending all my best to Keir, his team and his family.
“The fact they were allegedly shouting ‘Jimmy Saville’ [sic], shows that Boris Johnson’s words have real-life consequences.”
Labour MP Chris Bryant, the chair of the House of Commons standards committee, said: “This is what happens when a prime minister descends into the gutter and recycles lies from hard-right conspiracy theorists.
“Political poison has an effect. Johnson has no moral compass.”
Sadiq Khan, Labour’s London mayor, expressed his “solidarity” with Sir Keir and shadow foreign secretary David Lammy, who was walking with the Labour leader at the time of the incident, as he thanked the police for their actions.
“This is what happens when fake news is amplified and given credibility by people who should know better,” Mr Khan added.
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “Any politician choosing to weaponise online conspiracy theories against opponents knows fine well that they risk stirring up the kind of hate and abuse that Keir Starmer experienced today.
“If he has any decency at all, the PM will now apologise unreservedly.”
Lord Walney, the former MP and the government’s independent adviser on political violence and disruption, said: “The footage of Sir Keir Starmer being hounded tonight is disturbing, as is the way some of his pursuers picked up on the Jimmy Savile slur.
“This is surely a moment for the PM and all those who have defended those words to reflect and withdraw.”
Mr Lammy said it was “no suprise the conspiracy theorist thugs who harassed” himself and Sir Keir had repeated Mr Johnson’s “slurs”.
“Intimidation, harassment and lies have no place in our democracy. And they won’t ever stop me doing my job,” he added, as he thanked those police officers who “helped get me safely back to parliament”.
ANALYSIS: Incident brings fresh demands for PM to say sorry
The mob who harassed Sir Keir Starmer outside Parliament has done Boris Johnson no favours.
The ugly scenes have dramatically re-opened the row over the PM’s Jimmy Savile jibe against the Labour leader a week ago.
As well as an angry backlash from senior Conservative MPs, it provoked a rift with Chancellor Rishi Sunak and caused the resignation of Number 10 policy chief Munira Mirza.
So, straightaway, here’s a challenge for the PM’s new chief of staff Steve Barclay and spin doctor Guto Harri.
Surely many more Tory MPs will now have pens poised, ready to write to Sir Graham Brady demanding a confidence vote over Mr Johnson.
Inevitably, the mob confronting Sir Keir means comparisons are already being made between the PM’s inflammatory words about Sir Keir and Donald Trump’s urging of protesters to storm the Capitol building last January.
The PM’s friends and foes are now saying the only option is for him to make a full apology in the Commons. But that’s not in his nature.
For him, sorry seems to be the hardest word.
PM brands Starmer ‘harassment’ as ‘disgraceful’
Mr Johnson himself tweeted on Monday evening: “The behaviour directed at the leader of the Opposition tonight is absolutely disgraceful. All forms of harassment of our elected representatives are completely unacceptable.
“I thank the police for responding swiftly.”
Home Secretary Priti Patel said that all MPs “must be able to go about their lives without fear of threats or intimidation”.
She added that the scenes of people “accosting” Sir Keir and Mr Lammy were “completely unacceptable” and revealed she was in contact with police about the incident.
A Labour source revealed Sir Keir was back at his desk straight after the incident and was due to play in a five-a-side football game on Monday night.
“Nothing gets between Keir and football,” they said.
Two arrests during clashes between police and protesters
The Metropolitan Police said in a statement: “Shortly after 5.10pm on Monday, February 7, a man who had been surrounded by a group of protesters near to New Scotland Yard, was taken away from the scene by a police car.
“A man and a woman were arrested at the scene for assault of an emergency worker after a traffic cone was thrown at a police officer.
“They have been taken into custody.”
The prime minister last week saw his policy chief, Munira Mirza, quit over his use of the Savile claim about Sir Keir.
She resigned from her Number 10 role after revealing she had implored Mr Johnson to apologise for the remarks.
Despite attempting to “clarify” his claim about the Labour leader, the prime minister has stopped short of apologising for the comments.
During Prime Minister’s Questions last week, Sir Keir accused Mr Johnson of “parroting the conspiracy theories of violent fascists to try to score cheap political points”.
The victims of Savile have also demanded the prime minister withdraw his comments.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Health Secretary Sajid Javid, both viewed as possible successors to Mr Johnson, have distanced themselves from the prime minister over the row.