UK: Johnson urged to apologise after Starmer mobbed by protesters

Some MPs say the Labour leader was mobbed after Johnson accused him of failing to prosecute sex offender Jimmy Savile.

Britain's Labour Party leader Keir Starmer
Keir Starmer, 59, was surrounded by a crowd at an anti-COVID-19 vaccination demonstration [File: Toby Melville/Reuters]

British legislators have urged Boris Johnson to apologise to Keir Starmer, leader of the opposition Labour Party, after he was hounded by a group of angry protesters in an incident some say was triggered by the prime minister’s comments.

Speaking in the House of Commons last week, Johnson accused Starmer of having failed to prosecute Jimmy Saville, one of the United Kingdom’s most notorious sex offenders, during his time as director of public prosecutions.

On Monday, Starmer, 59, who had been attending an anti-COVID-19 vaccination demonstration near Parliament, was surrounded by a crowd.

Before being escorted into a police car, some of the protesters shouted “Traitor!” and “Were you protecting Jimmy Savile?” at him.

In a statement, police said that two people had been arrested after a traffic cone was thrown at an officer.

David Lammy, Labour’s foreign affairs spokesman who was with Starmer during the incident and had to be escorted by the police back into Parliament, tweeted: “No surprise the conspiracy theorist thugs who harassed @Keir_Starmer & I repeated slurs we heard from @BorisJohnson last week at the despatch box.”

The controversy comes as Johnson is under pressure to resign in the face of a series of scandals, including alcohol-fuelled parties at his Downing Street office and residence during coronavirus lockdowns.

Criticism came also from the Conservative Party. Member of Parliament Sir Roger Gale suggested on Twitter that such slurs were a “direct result of the deliberately careless use of language in the Chamber”.

Conservative legislator Julian Smith pushed his criticism further, saying that Johnson’s comments needed to be fully withdrawn.

“What happened to Keir Starmer tonight outside parliament is appalling,” Smith said on Twitter. “It is really important for our democracy & for his security that the false Savile slurs made against him are withdrawn in full.”

The calls came as Johnson tried to clarify his comments.

He has declined to apologise or withdraw the remarks.

Such refusal led to his head of policy Munira Mirza, one of his closest aides, quitting her job last Thursday. She called the remarks an “inappropriate and partisan reference to a horrendous case of child sex abuse”.

Responding to Monday’s incident, Johnson said on Twitter, “The behaviour directed at the Leader of the Opposition tonight is absolutely disgraceful. All forms of harassment of our elected representatives are completely unacceptable.”

Some politicians, such as Conservative Party’s Chris Philp, said Johnson is not to blame.

“I don’t think you can point to what the prime minister said as the cause of that – you certainly can’t blame him,” Philp told Sky. “I don’t think it in any way justified or provoked or incited the terrible and totally unacceptable harassment and intimidation of the leader of the opposition.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies