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Tuesday, January 08, 2019

When protest spills over into intimidation

I am one of the first to stand up and defend people's right to protest, to offend others and even to be offensive, if it is justified. But there is a line to be drawn between legitimate protest and intimidation, and yesterday's confrontation with Anna Soubry MP crossed that line.

As the Guardian reports, dozens of MPs have written to the UK’s most senior police officer to raise concerns about safety outside parliament after the Conservative MP faced chants from protesters on Monday calling her a “Nazi”. Ironically, the tactics adopted by these protestors have far more in common with those of Hitler's thugs, than anything they may be accusing Ms. Soubry of:

At least 55 parliamentarians signed the letter to the Metropolitan police commissioner, Cressida Dick, after the Commons Speaker, John Bercow, urged officers to do more to protect MPs and Soubry criticised the lack of police response to the abuse.

Scotland Yard later confirmed it had opened an investigation into whether any offences had been committed when chants of “Soubry is a Nazi” could clearly be heard while the pro-remain MP was being interviewed by BBC News on Abingdon Green, a grassed area outside parliament used by broadcasters.

It is the second time in recent weeks that Soubry has been targeted by a small group of pro-Brexit protesters wearing yellow vests, some of whom have links to the far right. On the earlier occasion, she was surrounded by shouting men calling her a traitor.

The MPs’ letter to Dick reads: “After months of peaceful and calm protests by groups representing a range of political views on Brexit, an ugly element of individuals with strong far-right and extreme-right connections, which your officers are well aware of, have increasingly engaged in intimidatory and potentially criminal acts targeting members of parliament, journalists, activists and members of the public.

“We understand there are ongoing investigations but there appears to be an ongoing lack of coordination in the response from the police and appropriate authorities including with Westminster borough policing, and despite clear assurances this would be dealt with following incidents before Christmas, there have been a number of further serious and well publicised incidents today.”

In the letter, the MPs said they wanted to ensure that people retained the right to protest peacefully outside parliament. “It is, however, 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.”

Gina Miller makes the point on Radio Wales this morning that it is women in particular who are being targeted by these people, and that despite that, police are there in insufficient numbers and are failing to intervene.

And it is not just MPs who are facing this intimidation. Protestors are targeting journalists and other interviewees, echoes of Trump's verbal assaults on the media, attacking the messenger not the message. The concern of course is that this intimidation will spill over into violence, and that we will have another tragedy such as that with Jo Cox.

If the media are to continue working from College Green, and if we are to continue to respect the democratic right to protest, then the police need to offer greater protection to those being targeted so that both sides can go about their business without fear.
The 1st thing that came to my mind over this was Moseley,s Black Shirts of 1936. We have had the rise of Nationalism, Hitler 1933, now this. Three years later War.The problems must be rapidly dealt with. The Tories swing to the right (starting with Cameron) has been a disaster for the country.
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