Senior Tory, Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs — and the Government’s own independent adviser on political violence and disruption — criticised the Prime Minister after the Labour leader had to be whisked into a police car when he was mobbed by protesters close to Parliament. At least two of them hurled abuse about serial sex offender Savile at him.
However, Downing Street made clear that Mr Johnson, who chaired Cabinet on Tuesday morning amid expectations that he could start a reshuffle of his top team, would not be apologising.
Minister Chris Philp also denied the protest targeting Sir Keir was linked to the Prime Minister’s Savile remark. Mr Johnson made the initial claim on Monday last week during a debate on the partygate scandal threatening his premiership when he alleged that when Sir Keir was Director of Public Prosecutions he “spent most of his time prosecuting journalists and failing to prosecute Jimmy Savile”.
After a backlash, Mr Johnson clarified his accusation by saying he was not accusing Sir Keir of personally being involved in decisions not to prosecute the sex offender.
But his Savile claim sparked a fresh wave of condemnation after the Labour leader was surrounded by the angry demonstrators on Monday afternoon, hurling various remarks including on Savile, Julian Assange and Covid.
Tory Caroline Nokes, chair of the Commons women and equalities committee, told Times Radio: “The Prime Minister should come forward today and instead of having some half-baked near apology that we saw last week, he needs to make a fulsome apology.”
The former Home Office minister, who has called on Mr Johnson to resign, added: “It’s absolutely incumbent on every single one of us… to make sure that we have an informed, courteous, respectful political discourse in the chamber so we don’t see those sort of mob scenes outside the chamber.”
Wimbledon Tory MP Stephen Hammond also urged Mr Johnson to “reconsider” his stance and “apologise”, telling The Standard: “What politicians say sets a tone and matters.”
Lord Walney, former Labour MP John Woodcock who is now the Government’s independent adviser on political violence and disruption, tweeted: “The footage of Sir Keir Starmer being hounded… is disturbing, as is the way some of his pursuers picked up on the Jimmy Savile slur. This is surely a moment for the PM and all those who have defended those words to reflect and withdraw.”
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, tweeted: “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.”
The Labour leader was led into a police vehicle after being surrounded on Victoria Embankment. On at least two videos posted to social media, a man and a woman were heard shouting about Savile.
Mr Johnson, who was expected to move his Chief Whip Mark Spencer in a reshuffle, condemned the targeting of Sir Keir as “absolutely disgraceful”, stressing “all forms of harassment of our elected representatives are completely unacceptable”.
As he refused to retract the Savile comment, Downing Street sources highlighted that Sir Keir apologised while DPP in 2013 for “shortcomings” by the Crown Prosecution Service in not bringing Savile to justice four years earlier.
However, the sister of murdered MP Jo Cox warned that political leaders must behave “responsibly” and that “words have consequences”.
Labour MP Kim Leadbeater, who won her sister’s Batley and Spen seat last year, said she was “incredibly angry and upset” by the crowd who surrounded Sir Keir and shadow foreign secretary David Lammy.
Technology minister Mr Philp condemned the mobbing but denied Mr Johnson was to blame for inciting it. He told Sky News: “Some of the people involved have previously done similar things to people like Michael Gove and BBC journalist Nick Watt.
They did mention Jimmy Savile, they also mentioned Julian Assange repeatedly, they mentioned Covid and the Opposition more generally.”