A Conservative minister has been accused of assault after being filmed grabbing a female protestor as she interrupted a speech by Chancellor Philip Hammond.
Mark Field, the MP for Cities of London and Westminster and a Foreign Office minister, can be seen in the ITV video grabbing the climate change activist by the neck at the event in the City.
Greenpeace, which condemned Field’s response, led a 40-strong protest that interrupted the chancellor’s annual Mansion House speech, which was being broadcast live on television.
“We were shocked at the footage of an elected MP and government minister assaulting one of our peaceful protestors at the Mansion House tonight,” Areeba Hamid, Climate Campaigner for Greenpeace UK, said.
“The protestor in question was hoping to discuss climate change and the economic reforms we need with the financiers and bankers at the dinner.”
Several of the protesters were women wearing red evening dresses with Suffragette-style sashes reading ‘climate emergency’.
According to ITV, Field has referred himself to the Cabinet Office for investigation and has apologised “unreservedly” to the protester.
In a statement to the broadcaster, he is quoted as saying: “In the confusion many guests understandably felt threatened and when one protester rushed past me towards the top table I instinctively reacted.
“There was no security present and I was for a split-second genuinely worried she might have been armed.
“As a result I grasped the intruder firmly in order to remove her from the room as swiftly as possible.”
He added that he “deeply” regretted the incident and would cooperate fully with a Cabinet Office investigation.
In the clip shared widely on social media, the MP is seen grappling with the woman, and pushing her against a nearby pillar before standing up and pushing her with both hands.
Tory chairman Brandon Lewis said the party would hold its own investigation into Field’s conduct, which he described as “very hard to defend”.
“It’s hard for anybody to look at that and not be astonished at what they have seen,” Lewis told Good Morning Britain.
The incident caused outrage, with Labour’s Lisa Nandy describing it as “horrifying”.
Former 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.”
Fellow Labour MP Dawn Butler said it was “horrific” and called for Field to be sacked or suspended.
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.”
But Areeba Hamid, climate campaigner for Greenpeace UK, said: “We were shocked at the footage of an elected MP and government minister assaulting one of our peaceful protestors at the Mansion House tonight.
“The protester in question was hoping to discuss climate change and the economic reforms we need with the financiers and bankers at the dinner.
“Mark Field is the MP for the City and represents many of those financiers and bankers.
“We hope they will show a greater willingness to listen and understand the necessity for urgent action than their representative.”
The disruption of Hammond’s speech lasted several minutes before a slow hand clap broke out among the seated guests.
A City of London Police spokesman said: “We were alerted at 9.03pm. We were called by security at Mansion House who let us know there were a group of protesters who had gained entry and were refusing to leave.
“Officers arrived to help with their ejection. Once in the presence of the police, the protesters were co-operative and left the premises. No arrests were made.”