LONDON — It was a surreal moment.
The Conservative lawmaker Anna Soubry stopped, mid-sentence, during her live interview with the BBC and gestured in the direction of shouting protesters.
“I do object to being called a Nazi,” Soubry said.
Lawmakers had just returned to work after a Christmas break, and Soubry was giving an interview on the lawn outside the Palace of Westminster, as politicians often do. Soubry, a pro-European who favors a second referendum on leaving the European Union, was talking about what everyone is talking about: Brexit. But in the background, a gaggle of protesters could be heard shouting: “Soubry is a Nazi! Soubry is a Nazi!”
On Tuesday, a day after the incident, the Metropolitan Police said in a statement that they were investigating and had been “briefed to intervene appropriately where they hear or see breaches of the law.”
It followed a letter to police signed by more than 50 lawmakers who said they had “serious concerns” about the “deteriorating public order and security situation.”
The letter also said: “After months of peaceful and calm protests by groups representing a range of political views on Brexit, 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 targeting Members of Parliament, journalists, activists and members of the public.”
Speaking in the House of Commons, Speaker John Bercow said he has written to the police as well. “I must say to the House that it is frankly intolerable if MPs and journalists go about their business in fear. This situation cannot stand.”
Brexit is a divisive issue, and passions on both sides have flared in the lead-up to Britain’s planned departure from the bloc on March 29.
“This is what has happened to our country,” Soubry said, gesturing toward the vocal protesters nearby.
Soubry is a prominent “remainer” who supports the idea of a second referendum. The idea of a do-over has gained momentum in recent weeks as a possible way out of the current parliamentary logjam.
After delaying a vote in Parliament last month, British Prime Minister Theresa May hopes that her Brexit deal will get the thumbs up in a crunch vote on Jan. 15. But there are signs that she will struggle to get the support she needs.
If May’s deal fails to get parliamentary approval, either next week or during a subsequent vote, it is unclear what will happen. May has said that if the deal is not passed, Britain could leave the E.U. without an agreement — an outcome widely viewed as chaotic and disruptive — or there might not be any Brexit at all.
For her part, Soubry has criticized the police for not taking action. “Apparently MPs & politicians are meant to accept it as part of the democratic process,” she tweeted. “I fail to see why journalists and technicians should be subjected to the same abuse & intimidation as the police stand by and do nothing. They tried to stop me getting into Parliament.”
The verbal abuse directed at her was not an isolated incident.
Sky News broadcaster Kay Burley said she needs security to escort her from work.
She said those hurling abusive comments are not pro-Brexit but “pro-intimidation.”
Guardian columnist Owen Jones on Monday posted a video of him being called a “traitor” and a “horrible little liar.”
Lawmakers from across the political spectrum criticized the attacks on Soubry.
Steve Baker, a Conservative lawmaker and Britain’s Brexit secretary, told the BBC on Tuesday that Soubry was “disgracefully treated” and that the “appalling” scenes showed how divisive Brexit is.
He noted that police were investigating and said that “there is a balance always to be struck between defending the right of freedom of speech and ensuring that there are boundaries around that.”
Labour lawmaker Mary Creagh told Parliament that Soubry has been subjected to “vile, misogynistic thuggery” and pointed out that Labour lawmaker Jo Cox was murdered by a far-right neo-Nazi in 2016.
Owen Smith, a Labour lawmaker, tweeted: “Racist thugs like these have always existed. But Brexit has brought them out from under their rocks.”
Andrea Leadsom, a Conservative MP and prominent Brexiteer, tweeted: “Despicable behaviour towards @Anna_Soubry — she is a hard working and brave colleague and does not deserve this horrendous treatment.”
This story was originally published by Washington Post
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