As Brexit deadline looms, protests turn nasty

For more than two years — come rain, hail or shine — campaigners from across the Brexit divide have gathered outside the UK Parliament to chant slogans, wave flags and occasionally share tea and biscuits.

Recently, however, the scene has turned uglier. As the deadline for Britain’s departure from the European Union nears, an increasingly vocal group with far-right links has joined the throng, harassing politicians and journalists, and hurling vicious insults.

Anna Soubry, a Conservative Member of Parliament and — unusually for her party — a supporter of a second referendum, was at the receiving end of abuse from this group on Monday. As she took part in TV interviews on College Green — a patch of grass where TV crews and journalists mingle — she was called everything from a “liar” to a “Nazi.”

As Soubry walked back towards the House of Commons after the TV interviews, she was surrounded by protesters who called her a “fascist,” in footage widely shared online.

The Soubry incident prompted howls of outrage from lawmakers, and has forced police to act. Deputy Assistant Commissioner Laurence Taylor of London’s Metropolitan Police on Tuesday said officers at Westminster have been told to “intervene appropriately” where they “hear or see breaches of the law.”

He added that police were assessing whether any crimes had been committed in Monday’s confrontation. So far, no one had been arrested.

But politicians have criticized the “ongoing lack of coordination” from police in the face of “deteriorating public order and security situation” in and around Parliament.

In a letter to London’s Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick signed by 60 MPs, they said “an ugly element of individuals with strong far right and extreme right connections — which your officers are well aware of — have increasingly engaged in intimidatory and potentially criminal acts” against politicians, journalists, activists and the public.”

The House of Commons Speaker, John Bercow, added his own letter to the Met on Tuesday, saying there was a “regular coterie of burly white men who are effectively targeting and denouncing Members whom they recognize and dislike — most notably female and those from ethnic minority backgrounds.”

Misogyny at play

It’s not the first time Soubry has come under attack.