Boris Johnson’s discredited claim that Sir Keir Starmer personally failed to prosecute Jimmy Savile is “certainly not to blame” for the mob intimidation of the Labour leader, a minister has told Sky News.
Technology minister Chris Philp told Kay Burley Mr Johnson’s words in Parliament last week “did not prompt the terrible harassment and intimidation” of Sir Keir yesterday, but described the incident as “completely unacceptable”.
Mr Philp also maintained that the PM had “clarified” his remarks in the last few days when asked if the prime minister should issue an apology.
The incident brought fresh condemnation of the PM, with some MPs from his own party calling for Mr Johnson to issue an apology for his remarks.
“I don’t think you can point to what the prime minister said as the cause of that,” Mr Philp told Sky News.
He added: “You certainly can’t blame him for the fact that that mob were clearly behaving in a totally unacceptable way.
“Keir Starmer’s own website says he was responsible overall for the CPS, and, in fact, Keir Starmer himself apologised for the CPS’s failings, just in the same way that the PM has apologised for the failings in Number 10.”
Mr Philp also suggested that people in last night’s mob in Westminster “have previously done similar things” to other politicians including Michael Gove.
The technology minister appeared to distance himself from the PM’s comments later during his morning broadcast round.
Asked if he would have made the remark, he told LBC it was “a matter of individual choice,” adding: “I’m not sure I would’ve made them in that context.”
Speaking to reporters later in the morning, Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis said Mr Johnson made a “fair and reasonable point” that “somebody at the top of an organisation has responsibility for what happens in it”.
He added: “That’s no excuse for people to behave the way they did last night and we shouldn’t give them that excuse either.”
Starmer confronted by protesters
In video footage posted on social media on Monday evening, the Labour leader was seen walking near to Parliament surrounded by police officers while being mobbed by a group, some of whom were protesting against COVID measures.
At one point in the footage, a member of the group surrounding Sir Keir, was overheard making a baseless claim, by shouting: “Why did you let Jimmy Savile off?”
While one of the group, supporters of what they called a “freedom convoy” and “freedom movement”, was heard accusing the Labour leader of “protecting paedophiles”.
Conservative MPs call for PM to apologise
Those from the prime minister’s own backbenches calling on him to apologise for his initial comments include former cabinet minister Julian Smith, who posted on Twitter: “What happened to Keir Starmer tonight outside parliament is appalling.
“It is really important for our democracy and for his security that the false Savile slurs made against him are withdrawn in full.”
Senior Conservative backbencher Sir Roger Gale, who has submitted a letter of no confidence in Mr Johnson, expressed his fear that the “grim scenes” were “the direct result of the deliberately careless use of language” in the Commons chamber.
Another senior Tory, Tobias Ellwood, suggested there was currently “a drift towards a Trumpian style of politics”.
Labour MP Kim Leadbeater, the sister of murdered MP Jo Cox, said she was “incredibly angry” about the mob targeting Sir Keir, posting on Twitter that “words have consequences, leaders have a duty to behave responsibly”.
Sadiq Khan, Labour’s London mayor, added: “This is what happens when fake news is amplified and given credibility by people who should know better.”
Meanwhile, the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said: “When politicians are harassed and threatened it’s a threat not just to the MPs themselves, but to the health of our democracy. We must condemn it and stand united against it. I continue to pray for all who work in politics, and for a culture where we can learn to disagree well.”
PM responds to incident
Mr Johnson himself tweeted on Monday evening: “The behaviour directed at the leader of the opposition tonight is absolutely disgraceful. All forms of harassment of our elected representatives are completely unacceptable.
“I thank the police for responding swiftly.”
While Home Secretary Priti Patel said that all MPs “must be able to go about their lives without fear of threats or intimidation”.
A Labour source revealed Sir Keir was back at his desk straight after the incident.
The Metropolitan Police said in a statement: “Shortly after 5.10pm on Monday, February 7, a man who had been surrounded by a group of protesters near to New Scotland Yard, was taken away from the scene by a police car.
“A man and a woman were arrested at the scene for assault of an emergency worker after a traffic cone was thrown at a police officer. They have been taken into custody.”
The prime minister last week saw his policy chief, Munira Mirza, quit over his use of the Savile claim about Sir Keir.
She resigned from her Number 10 role after revealing she had implored Mr Johnson to apologise for the remarks.
Despite attempting to “clarify” his claim about the Labour leader, the prime minister has stopped short of apologising for the comments.