Boris Johnson Not To Blame For Harassment Of Keir Starmer, Minister Insists

"You certainly can’t blame him for the fact that that mob were clearly behaving in a totally unacceptable way", Chris Philp said.
John Phillips via Getty Images

Boris Johnson’s Jimmy Savile smear against Keir Starmer is not to blame for the mobbing of the Labour leader outside parliament, a government minister has said.

Technology minister Chris Philp said the harassment and intimidation of Starmer was “totally unacceptable” but insisted that people were wrong to “point to what the prime minister said as the cause of that”.

Johnson is facing fresh calls to apologise and withdraw his comments following the ugly scenes outside parliament yesterday, in which Starmer was bundled into a police car to escape a mob chanting about Savile and branding him a “traitor”.

David Lammy, the foreign secretary who was with Starmer at the time, said it was “no surprise the conspiracy theorist thugs who harassed Keir Starmer and I repeated slurs we heard from Boris Johnson last week at the despatch box”.

A handful of Conservative MPs have directly linked the incident to Johnson’s jibe, in which he accused the Labour leader of “using his time prosecuting journalists and failing to prosecute Jimmy Savile” while he was director of public prosecutions.

In 2020, fact-checking website Full Fact looked into the claim that Starmer had stopped Savile being charged in 2009.

It said that while Starmer was head of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) when the decision not to prosecute was made on the grounds of “insufficient evidence”, he was not the lawyer reviewing the case.

And a later investigation that criticised the actions of both the CPS and the police did not suggest Starmer was personally involved in the decisions made.

Johnson later sought to “clarify” his remarks, saying he was not talking about Starmer’s personal record but his responsibility for the CPS as a whole.

But that did not stop a number of Conservatives from directly attributing his remarks to the incident yesterday evening.

Senior Tory Tobias Ellwood, who has already submitted a letter of no confidence in Johnson, demanded the PM apologise and put a stop to “this drift towards a Trumpian style of politics” while former chief whip Julian Smith urged Johnson to withdraw the Savile slur “in full”.

Johnson was also rebuked by Kim Leadbeater, the sister of murdered MP Jo Cox, who said: “Words have consequences, leaders have a duty to behave responsibly and politics is not a game. Our country deserves far better.”

After the footage emerged, Johnson condemned the incident as “completely unacceptable” but did not apologise.

“The behaviour directed at the leader of the opposition tonight is absolutely disgraceful,” he tweeted.

“All forms of harassment of our elected representatives are completely unacceptable.

“I thank the police for responding swiftly.”

Philp doubled down on the the defence of his boss, arguing that the agitators had also chanted about the activist Julian Assange and Covid-19.

He told Sky’s Kay Burley: “They did mention Jimmy Savile. They also mentioned Julian Assange repeatedly, they mentioned Covid, they also mentioned the opposition more generally.

“I don’t think you can point to what the prime minister said as the cause of that. You certainly can’t blame him for the fact that that mob were clearly behaving in a totally unacceptable way.”

Asked whether those who had condemned Johnson, including Tory MPs, were all wrong, Philp said: “I just don’t think you can say that the comments the prime minister made about Keir Starmer’s record... can reasonably be said to have prompted the terrible harassment and intimidation that we just saw.”

He added: “People have their record criticised the whole time, he’ll criticise the prime minister’s record the whole time. Politicians get criticised the whole time. And you don’t sort of say well, that justifies a mob surrounding the politician in the way that we just saw.

“I don’t think you can make a link, reasonably, between what the prime minister said and the harassment and intimidation.”

Other footage posted on social media showed Piers Corbyn, the Covid-19 conspiracy theorist and brother of former Labour leader Jeremy, addressing the crowd before the incident and later leading chants of “resist, defy, do not comply”.

Videos showed Starmer, surrounded by police, being followed down the street while being targeted with shouts of “why aren’t you opposing?” and “traitor”.

It was understood Starmer was not harmed during the incident and was soon back at his desk.

Scotland Yard said two arrests were made after the clashes.


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