In Depth

Anna Soubry abuse: do politicians need more protection?

MPs urge Scotland Yard to step in after the pro-EU Tory is branded ‘Nazi’ by protesters

At least 55 MPs have written to the Metropolitan Police commissioner calling for better police protection against abusive protesters outside Parliament.

Labour’s Stephen Doughty coordinated the cross-party letter after Conservative MP Anna Soubry was verbally abused during live television interviews on Monday.

The former minister and Remain supporter was called a “liar”, a “Nazi” and “scum”, and was later “jostled as she tried to re-enter the Palace of Westminster”, reports the BBC

MPs told Met boss Cressida Dick that they had “serious concerns about the deteriorating public order and security situation in and around the exterior of the Parliamentary estate”. This area includes College Green, where reporters often interview politicians and which has become a popular site for protesters.

The letter said it was “utterly unacceptable for Members of Parliament, journalists, activists and members of the public to be subject to abuse, intimidation and threatening behaviour and indeed potentially serious offences while they go about their work”.

Police are said to be investigating whether any criminal offence was committed.

But the reaction to the incident has left commentators divided. Brexiteers such as Brendan O’Neill, editor of Spiked, ask why no one has taken action to protect pro-Leave campaigners who have long endured similar abuse.

“What kind of country criminalises the insulting of politicians? An unfree one,” O’Neill says.

The Daily Mail’s Quentin Letts agrees, writing: “For months, pro-Leave MPs have been heckled by EU flag wavers (who may well be in the pay of Brussels) and this has been called ‘freedom of expression’. Now that the heckling was from the other side, they were shocked.”

But Labour MP Mary Creagh points to the murder of her colleague Jo Cox in June 2016 and argues that yesterday’s “really vile, misogynistic thuggery” was not an isolated incident.

Commons Speaker John Bercow also says he was “concerned” about protesters targeting female MPs and journalists, and has vowed to look into extra protection outside Parliament.

Backing the calls for action by the authorities, HuffPost’s Paul Waugh adds: “The police have a tough job trying to protect free speech while keeping the peace.

“But there’s clearly a big difference between robust heckling and the physical intimidation and verbal abuse that several have suffered in recent days.”

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