Brexit secretary Stephen Barclay has been accused of “excusing and legitimising mob rule” after he said the abuse of Tory MP Anna Soubry in Westminster showed why a second EU referendum would be a bad idea.
Soubry was branded a “Nazi” and a “liar” by a mob who targeted her during live TV interviews and then followed her as she made her way back into the Commons.
More than 50 MPs have written to Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick to express their “serious concerns” about the “deteriorating public order and security situation” outside parliament.
Commons’ Speaker John Bercow has also written to the Commissioner asking for help to tackle “aggressive, threatening and intimidating behaviour” against MPs.
Police officers on duty near Parliament have been “briefed to intervene appropriately where they hear or see breaches of the law”.
The threats made against Soubry were also discussed by the cabinet when it met this morning.
“Cabinet condemned the disgraceful and unacceptable treatment of Anna Soubry outside Parliament yesterday The prime minister said this was not how debate should be conducted in this country,” a spokesperson for Theresa May said.
Soubry is one of the MPs calling for a referendum on prime minister’s Brexit deal.
But speaking to BBC Radio 4′s Today programme this morning, Barclay said that would be “hugely damaging to our democracy”.
“We saw in the appalling scenes outside parliament in the way my college Anna Soubry was disgracefully treated yesterday how divisive this process has been,” he said.
The Brexit secretary said MPs should “come together in the national interest to unite behind the only deal on the table a dal that delivers on the biggest vote in our democratic history”.
His comments triggered a backlash from some campaigners who want another referendum.
Former Tory cabinet minister Justine Greening 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.”
Labour MP Chris Bryant, a member of the People’s Vote campaign, said: “We live in a bitterly divided country, but those divisions will not heal by making it poorer or by appeasing those who want to silence MPs calling for a democratic new public vote on Brexit.
“The way to combat far-right thuggery is with more democracy not less.”
This morning Soubry said police were ignoring the abuse and intimidation, including racism, that is being aimed at politicians and journalists.
Soubry told Good Morning Britain on Tuesday that there was a small group of people “roaming around Westminster intimidating people going about their lawful business”.
The Broxtowe MP added that, while she anticipated a level of criticism and abuse as an MP, she expected authorities to act when it “crossed the line”.
She told GMB: “It crossed the line in December, it was journalists who were being attacked.”
In his letter, Bercow said: “There seems to be a pattern here of a regular coterie of burly white men who are effectively targeting and denouncing Members whom they recognise and dislike — most notably female and those from ethnic minority backgrounds.
“I politely suggest that the present situation is not only intolerable but untenable. Matters cannot stand as they do today. A change in policy is required. I would therefore ask you and your officers to do your utmost to increase security for Members, journalists and visitors to the parliamentary estate, and ensure there is safe access to and from Abingdon Green.”