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Boris Johnson under fire for 'Trumpian politics' after protesters mob Labour's Starmer

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By Alasdair Sandford  with AFP
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UK PM Boris Johnson and Labour leader Keir Starmer arrive for a remembrance service for British MP David Amess at St Margaret's Church, Westminster, London, Oct.18, 2021.
UK PM Boris Johnson and Labour leader Keir Starmer arrive for a remembrance service for British MP David Amess at St Margaret's Church, Westminster, London, Oct.18, 2021.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali

Britain's opposition leader Keir Starmer had to be protected by police on Monday after being surrounded and verbally attacked by a small but aggressive group of protesters.

Their comments prompted outrage from politicians who accused Prime Minister Boris Johnson of stoking such sentiment in a recent controversial attack on his rival in parliament.

Several videos on social media show a very vocal crowd around the Labour leader in a Westminster street.

Starmer is heard being called a "traitor" and accused of "protecting paedophiles", before being bundled into a police car.

MPs from all sides turned on Johnson over his previous comments, which repeated a baseless slur peddled by conspiracy theorists and far-right trolls.

Under fire over the "partygate" scandal involving numerous social gatherings in his Downing Street offices while the country was in lockdown, the prime minister lashed out at Starmer -- who before moving into politics was the director of public prosecutions -- in parliament on Monday last week, accusing him of having "spent most of his time prosecuting journalists and failing to prosecute Jimmy Savile".

Savile was a popular TV and radio personality who was revealed after his death in 2011 to have sexually abused hundreds of people including children.

In his former role, Starmer was not involved in decisions not to prosecute Savile but apologised for police failures.

After Monday night's mob incident, Boris Johnson took to Twitter to condemn the behaviour directed at the opposition leader as "absolutely disgraceful" and "completely unacceptable".

But although last week he subsequently rowed back on his original remarks, saying he acknowledged that Starmer was not personally responsible for the Savile case, the prime minister has refused to apologise.

Labour politicians and several from the ruling Conservative Party linked Monday's harassment of the Labour leader to Johnson's comments in parliament.

"No surprise the conspiracy theorist thugs who harassed @Keir_Starmer & I repeated slurs we heard from @BorisJohnson last week at the despatch box," tweeted Labour MP David Lammy, who was with the opposition leader as it happened. "Intimidation, harassment and lies have no place in our democracy. And they won’t ever stop me doing my job."

"This is what happens when a prime minister descends into the gutter and recycles lies from hard-right conspiracy theorists. Political poison has an effect. Johnson has no moral compass," said Labour's Chris Bryant, head of a parliamentary standards committee, also on Twitter.

Some prominent Conservatives have called on Johnson to withdraw his remarks, which prompted the resignation last week of one of his closest aides, Munira Mirza.

"What happened to Keir Starmer tonight outside parliament is appalling. It is really important for our democracy & for his security that the false Savile slurs made against him are withdrawn in full," tweeted Tory MP Julian Smith, a former minister.

'PM - Apologise please," tweeted Tobias Ellwood, a Conservative MP who in 2017 tried to save a police officer fatally stabbed outside parliament.

"We claim to be the Mother of all Parliaments. Let’s stop this drift towards a Trumpian style of politics from becoming the norm. We are better than this."

Violence against British politicians and at Westminster has become a particularly sensitive issue in recent years. Two MPs, Jo Cox and Sir David Amess, have been killed.

London's Metropolitan Police said two people, a man and a woman, were arrested following Monday's incident after a traffic cone was thrown at a police car.

In one of the videos posted online, a man can be heard shouting at Keir Starmer about the Magna Carta, a 1215 royal charter. Some anti-vaccination campaigners have cited an obsolete clause, wrongly arguing that it exempts them from certain laws including those applying coronavirus restrictions.

"Why did you go after Julian Assange? Why did you target a journalist?" the Labour leader is also heard being asked, while other protesters shout "traitor".

Wanted at the time by Sweden on sexual assault charges that were later dropped, Assange appeared in 2011-2012 before British courts which ruled that he should be extradited.

Boris Johnson did not specify what he meant when he accused the Labour leader of "prosecuting journalists", an allegation that has received little attention. It has been seen as a reference to a phone-hacking scandal which brought about the demise of a prominent British tabloid and led to journalists being prosecuted, most of whom were acquitted.

The prime minister's reference was "aimed at pleasing newspaper editors because it was about the CPS’ pursuit of journalists - he was virtue signalling to his peer group," David Yelland, a former editor of The Sun, said on Twitter.