Nigel Farage has warned against taking police action or passing new laws to punish people for insulting politicians, after British “yellow vests” branded EU loyalist Anna Soubry MP a fascist.
The Brexit campaign leader was responding to incidents in which the Tory MP and left-wing commentator Owen Jones were followed by Brexiteer protesters wearing yellow tabards in the style of the anti-Macron gilets jaunes in France, near Parliament, and criticised in no uncertain terms.
Ms Soubry, in particular, is a deeply unpopular figure among Brexiteers, having stood for election in her Leave-voting constituency on a Leave manifesto, claiming to have accepted the Leave vote, and even tweeting “Brexit means Brexit” — before turning all her efforts towards openly campaigning for Brexit to be stopped.
Dozens of MPs have written to the police demanding action, with John Bercow, Speaker of the House of Commons, declaring the situation “cannot stand” and that “people who don’t get that point… will have to be made to get it.”
Public figures should be free to go out and express their opinion without the threat of violence, but what you can't do is make it a criminal offence to throw verbal abuse at politicians. pic.twitter.com/NOM7JCyvjc
— Nigel Farage (@Nigel_Farage) January 8, 2019
WATCH | @Nigel_Farage: "I've suffered this every day, year after year. My family was attacked, the car was smashed up, written off and the police didn't pursue a single prosecution. Those within the Establishment get a taste of it and suddenly they want the law changed!" pic.twitter.com/YnNthhWU6U
— Leave.EU (@LeaveEUOfficial) January 8, 2019
Leave Means Leave co-chairman Nigel Farage sounded a note of caution, however, despite having long been subject to aggressive public protests himself — with minimal outcry from the political establishment or mainstream media.
“I’ve suffered this, every day, literally every day, year after year. We even reached the position where my family was attacked, the car was smashed up and vandalised, written off — and the police didn’t pursue a single prosecution,” he told Good Morning Britain.
“Now, because somebody in Westminster has been abused, we’re told the police are investigating whether there’s been a crime,” he observed wryly.
“So, let’s get a sense of perspective on this; there is nothing new about this… we mustn’t overreact,” he warned.
“MPs, public figures, should be free to go about and express their opinion without the threat of violence,” he agreed.
“But if we try now to put in place laws, or if the police start prosecuting people, for throwing terms of abuse, that reaction, I think, would be over the top.”
Hi Anna sorry for what happened to you. Totally unacceptable. But do you know that pro-brexit supporters are regularly subjected to abusive tirades like this from your “brave and wonderful” friend?? pic.twitter.com/XeVvZzH318
— David Davies MP 🏴 (@DavidTCDavies) December 20, 2018
The reaction to the protesters who approached Anna Soubry and Owen Jones from ordinary Brexit supporters on social media has been mixed, with many believing they went too far and stressing they do not represent Leave voters more generally.
Others suggested Remainers had no room to complain, accusing them of having pilloried Leavers as racists and fascists for years themselves — and in Owen Jones’s case of having vociferously supported people like Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, who once declared: “I want to be in a situation where no Tory MP… can travel anywhere in the country, can show their face anywhere in the country, without being hounded.”
Protesters have confronted Jacob Rees-Mogg and his family at their London home, warning his children that "lots of people hate your daddy, do you know that?" Are politicians fair game for direct-action activists? Watch ▼@Jacob_Rees_Mogg | @MoggMentum | https://t.co/sv3MZUm41c pic.twitter.com/79BIITXk5U
— talkRADIO (@talkRADIO) September 12, 2018
Farage himself recalled “going to Edinburgh, and being attacked by a mob of 80 people in the street, [receiving] language and abuse far worse and intimidation far worse than we saw yesterday, and I was told by Alex Salmond, the First Minister of Scotland [at the time], that I basically deserved it… so there is a real double standard here, that those of us that have taken on the establishment have to endure the abuse, [but when] those within the establishment get a taste of it, suddenly they want the law changed.”
“Let’s make sure that everybody is able to speak freely, whether they support Brexit, whether they’re against Brexit, let’s stop violence, let’s stop intimidation — but what you can’t do is make it a criminal offence to throw abuse at elected politicians,” he concluded.
"I do object to being called a Nazi"
Protesters confront Conservative MP Anna Soubry on the street after interrupting her live BBC interview by chanting "Nazi"
— BBC Politics (@BBCPolitics) January 7, 2019