Brexit secretary prompts fury with suggestion new referendum should not happen due to far-right protests outside parliament

Stephen Barclay accused of willingness to give in to ‘mob rule’ and to ‘appease right-wing thuggery’

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Tuesday 08 January 2019 14:16 GMT
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MPs have condemned the Brexit secretary after he suggested the intimidating protests outside parliament should rule out a fresh referendum.

Conservative and Labour MPs joined forces after Stephen Barclay said the abuse hurled at MPs – by far-right Brexit supporters – showed it would be too “divisive” to stage another public vote.

Labour MPs Chuka Umunna and Ben Bradshaw branded the comment “disgraceful” and a willingness to “give in to fascist thugs” respectively.

And senior Tories Justine Greening and Sarah Wollaston accused Mr Barclay of being ready to bow down to “mob rule” and to “appease right-wing thuggery”.

The row blew up after Mr Barclay said the growing pressure for a Final Say referendum on the Brexit outcome should be resisted, arguing: “That would be hugely damaging to our democracy and our politics.

“We saw in the appalling scenes outside parliament, in the way my colleague Anna Soubry was disgracefully treated yesterday, how divisive this process has been.

“It is time now, after what has been a difficult period of time, to come together in the national interest, to unite behind the only deal on the table.”

The Brexit secretary was speaking after Ms Soubry, a leading Final Say supporter, accused the police of ignoring the harassment of MPs and journalists by “far-right” demonstrators.

The Tory MP, who was subjected to chants of “Soubry is a Nazi” during television interviews and later followed along the street by a group shouting abuse, said action should have been taken.

The Independent has reported how the protesters, calling themselves the “Yellow Vests UK”, in an echo of the protests in France, appear to be led by Tommy Robinson supporter James Goddard.

The group returns to Westminster on an almost daily basis to heckle pro-Remain protesters, journalists and MPs outside parliament, also targeting government buildings.

Ms Greening told the PoliticsHome website: “What fuels the thugs who abused Anna Soubry is when ministers won’t outright condemn these thugs and their intimidation.

“That sends a dangerous message that ministers will take it into account in decisions. That’s called mob rule.”

Dr Wollaston said: “This is orchestrated intimidation against MPs, journalists and members of the public that should not be tolerated.

“No one should suggest that we should alter our democratic process simply to appease right-wing thuggery.”

Mr Umunna tweeted: “Disgraceful for the Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay on @BBCr4today to suggest the abuse and intimidation @Anna_Soubry was subject to yesterday is a reason not to hold a democratic #PeopleVote.”

And Mr Bradshaw added: “Disgraceful comments from rookie #brexit secretary Stephen Barclay claiming the attacks on @Anna_Soubry are reason not to have a #peoplesvote on May’s botched deal. Since when has Britain give in to fascist thugs?”

Meanwhile, the police said they had been “briefed to intervene appropriately” if there is further trouble after more than 50 MPs wrote to Metropolitan Police commissioner Cressida Dick.

Laurence Taylor, the Met’s deputy assistant commissioner, said: “Our role is to facilitate peaceful protest and balance the needs and rights of all those present, including protesters, MPs and members of the public.

“We will deal robustly with incidents of harassment and abuse against anyone where that harassment or abuse constitutes a criminal offence.”

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