Tory minister Mark Field has been suspended after manhandling a female protester as she interrupted a speech by Chancellor Philip Hammond, Downing Street has said.
Theresa May described footage, which showed the tuxedoed MP shoving the climate change activist against a pillar and then grabbing her by the neck, as “very concerning”.
Greenpeace led the 40-strong protest which interrupted the chancellor’s annual black-tie Mansion House speech and accused Field, MP for the Cities of London and Westminster, of assault.
The minister, who in April urged police to “take a much firmer grip” on climate change demonstrations, was suspended from his job at the Foreign Office pending government and internal party investigations.
A Number 10 spokesperson said: “The prime minister has seen the footage and she found it very concerning.
“The police have said they are looking into reports over this matter and Mark Field has also referred himself to both the Cabinet Office and the Conservative party.
“He will be suspended as a minister while investigations take place.”
The activist has been named as Janet Barker, a 38 year-old originally from Wigan who now runs a business in Wales knitting products from the wool of Angora rabbits.
She said she would not be pressing charges against Field, telling the BBC: “He certainly manhandled me in a which was very disagreeable to myself and to most people.
“I’m not going to prosecute, I’m not going to go down that route because I just don’t want it to end up in a mudslinging match - the reason we were there was for the planet, for our future, to try and curb CO2 emissions.
“It’s not because I’ve got a beef with this gentleman.”
She added: “I’d quite like him to go on anger management, perhaps. I hope he doesn’t do it again because there was some serious anger there.”
Barker was one of several women protesters wearing red evening dresses with Suffragette-style sashes reading ‘climate emergency’.
According to ITV, Field apologised “unreservedly” to the activist, but the pressure on him forced the PM to act.
Labour led the calls for his suspension or sacking after the incident, which was described by shadow equalities minister Dawn Butler as “horrific”.
Louise Haigh, the shadow policing and crime minister, said “this naked aggression sends a chilling message about what is acceptable”.
Tory party chairman Brandon Lewis had earlier promised an investigation and described Field’s actions as “very hard to defend”, telling Good Morning Britain: “It’s hard for anybody to look at that and not be astonished at what they have seen.”
London Mayor Sadiq Khan said Field’s behaviour was “truly shocking”.
He tweeted: “Violence against women is endemic in our society and this behaviour is unacceptable. He should consider his position. I welcome the fact the City of London Police are looking into this incident.”
Labour’s Lisa Nandy describing it as “horrifying”, while ex-Tory MP Sarah Wollaston said it was”absolutely shameful, a male MP marching a woman out of a room by her neck”.
Heidi Allen, who defected from the party alongside Wollaston, criticised Field’s decision to refer himself to the Cabinet Office to probe whether he breached the ministerial code.
Allen tweeted: “Ministerial code?! Give me strength..... his concern should be whether the woman and police consider it assault.”
Labour MP Jess Phillips tweeted: “She posed no credible threat from what I can see.
“There is very little else that could justify this and anyone can see that this could have been done without physical contact.
“Every MP has to deal with protest and conflict, it is done with words. To watch this is so so awful.”
Tory MP George Freeman tweeted: “This looks appallingly rough handling of a woman climate protester in a dress.
“But before everyone rushes to instant armchair judgement can I suggest that all of us who weren’t there & don’t know what was said or done just wait a few hours to hear what those who *were* there say.”
Liberal Democrat leadership candidate Ed Davey MP said it was “extraordinary” that the minister responsible for building links with China, widely criticised for its human rights record, was “assaulting” a peaceful activist.
“The evidence is all there in the video so the police must press charges for this assault. It is striking that even now Field is only referring himself to the Cabinet Office because of the publicity, not the assault itself.”
Some Tory MPs defended Field, stressing that politicians were operating in an increasingly threatening environment following the murder of Jo Cox on 2016.
Sir Peter Bottomley said Field had done nothing wrong.
He told the Press Association: “The woman clearly was trying to create a fuss. Most viewers would say it’s good that she didn’t succeed.”
When asked if Field had been heavy-handed with the protester by grabbing her by the back of the neck, Bottomley responded: “No, he reversed her direction and she looked as though she went willingly.
“I think there’s no reason to criticise Mark Field… Of course it wasn’t an assault, it was a reversal of direction.”
Bottomley later told BBC Radio 4′s Today programme the protester could have been “carrying a collapsable truncheon”.
“If one of the member’s personal protection officers had intervened, blocked the woman’s progress and taken her out, he would have been doing the right thing.
“It’s a potentially dangerous situation.”
Johnny Mercer tweeted: “Honestly? Try being in our shoes in the current environment.
“He panicked, he’s not trained in restraint and arrest, and if you think this is ‘serious violence’, you may need to recalibrate your sensitivities. Calm down, move on, and be thankful this wasn’t worse.”
Maria Caulfield tweeted: “In this age where politicians have been murdered, jokes are made about throwing acid at us and we have all been threatened , no one knows what her motives were.
“If she had been carrying a weapon Mark Field would be hailed a hero now.”
City of London Police said they were looking into a “small number” of third-party reports of an assault at the event.
And the City of London Corporation, the municipal body for London’s financial district, said it was investigating the “breach of security” at Mansion House.
Hammond had barely started his address when activists interrupted on Thursday night.
The disruption lasted several minutes before a slow hand-clap broke out among the seated guests, and the chancellor got back to his feet at 9.05pm.
To a round of applause, Mr Hammond then said: “The irony, of course, is that this is the government that has just led the world by committing to a zero-carbon economy by 2050.”
Footage later released by the environmental group shows a line-up of protesters, including men wearing black suits and bow ties and women in red dresses and sashes, walking alongside the building, then rushing up a set of stairs and streaming into the dining hall.
A spokesman said he would not comment on how the group managed to evade security to get into the high-profile event.
Field has held the Cities of London and Westminster seat since 2001 but saw his majority cut to 3,148 in the 2017 snap election by Labour.
In April he wrote to Metropolitan Police commissioner Cressida Dick to complain that constituents were “quite rightly fed up” with travel disruption caused by the Extinction Rebellion environmental protests.
Activists brought parts of the city to a standstill throughout the month in a call for net carbon emissions to be reduced to zero by 2025.
In the letter claimed businesses in the West End were estimated to have lost “tens of millions of pounds” as a result of the protests.