Jacob Rees-Mogg filmed trying to break up scuffle after masked protesters barge into university talk

Masked protesters interrupt Conservative MP's talk at University of the West of England in Bristol

Chris Baynes
Friday 02 February 2018 20:40
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Jacob Rees-Mogg stands between brawling students at speech at the University of the West of England

Jacob Rees-Mogg has been filmed breaking up a scuffle amid angry scenes after masked protesters disrupted a talk he was giving at a university.

Footage posted on Twitter showed the Conservative MP intervening in a fracas at the University of the West of England (UWE) in Bristol.

In the video, he is seen restraining people as an angry confrontation between audience members and protesters threatens to turn violent.

Mr Rees-Mogg was at the university to give a talk organised by the student Politics and International Relations Society.

The university said a group of protesters ”broke into the lecture theatre”. It said it was ”absolutely appalled” by the group, who were not thought to be students.

According to attendees, about six masked protesters barged into the theatre shortly after the Mr Rees-Mogg’s talk began. They hurled abuse at the MP, shouting “bigot”, “fascist” and “racist”.

One video showed the MP remonstrating with a group of intruders, their faces covered, at the back of the lecture theatre. Shouts of “free speech” can be heard in the clip.

Chris Dixon, 23, who was in the audience, told The Independent: “As soon as they came in, Jacob Rees-Mogg walked straight up the stairs, walked straight up to them to have a conversation with them and try to diffuse the tension. They were just screaming in his face.

“Then a bunch of guys jumped up straight away to back Jacob Rees-Mogg so he wasn’t there alone. I thought he was going to get punched in the face or something, the way they were at him. They obviously hadn’t come to talk.”

The rival groups began pushing and shoving each other as the MP appealed for calm, said witnesses.

Chloe Kaye, 19, said: “The audience were getting very angry. Jacob Rees-Mogg was very calm, quite surprisingly, trying to stop all of this and talk to them. People in the crowd were pushing each other. Everyone was getting involved. Everyone was out of their seats.

“People were really angry that there were people interrupting free speech.

“It took about 10 minutes for security to come and stop all this and take [the protesters] away.”

The Bristol University politics student said around 200 people were in the audience. Some attendees questioned why there was no security for an event with a high-profile speaker.

Mr Rees-Mogg, tipped by some to be his party’s next leader, resumed his speech after university security ejected the protesters. Police were called but did not make any arrest.

The MP sought to downplay the fracas, describing himself as “a complete weed”.

“I wanted to stop anyone being hit because the whole thing would have degenerated,” he told The Telegraph. ”I didn’t think anyone was going to hit me so I felt quite safe intervening.”

In a statement, UWE said: “We are absolutely appalled by the conduct of a small number of attendees at an UWE PAIRS talk this evening. It is our understanding at this stage that a small group of protesters broke into the lecture theatre.

“The police were called & our security attended. We understand these protesters were not UWE Bristol students and did not have tickets for the event. Once the situation was calmed, Mr Rees Mogg went ahead with his speech. Both security and the police stayed for the event.

“We support the democratic right of free speech and peaceful protest. However, we strongly condemn the actions of protesters who disrupted normal debate and behaved in this way. We are delighted Mr Rees-Mogg was able to debate with our legitimate student body in a respectful manner.

“We would like to thank Jacob Rees Mogg for his composure & actions to diffuse what must have been a challenging and unprovoked incident. We will work with the police to identify the individuals & take appropriate action.”

A spokesman for Avon and Somerset Police said: “We were called to the University of the West of England’s Frenchay campus at about 6.30pm today following a report of a public order incident.

“No arrests were made and an investigation is under way to see if any criminal offences were committed.”

The force appealed for anyone with mobile footage of the fracas to speak to officers.

According to the university society’s Facebook page, tickets for the MP’s event sold out within minutes of going on sale. The event’s page promised “a chance to talk to an experienced parliamentarian about the issues of the day, what it’s like to be an MP and how you can get there”.

Labour MP Angela Rayner said she “utterly condemn[ed]” an the attempt to disrupt Mr Rees-Mogg’s speech.

“It’s extremely intimidating for any MP who travels alone to an event to be treated like this,” she added in a tweet.

The UWE Politics and International Relations Society declined to comment.

The Independent has contacted Mr Rees-Mogg for a comment.

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