Threats and intimidation have no place in a democracy and must have no influence on Brexit or the prospect of a second referendum – if one is required.
Amid ongoing concern over the aggressive harassment of our elected representatives outside the Westminster Parliament, it is hard not the sympathise with the police. As the Commons’ Speaker John Bercow wrote in his letter to the Metropolitan Police – which called for greater protection of MPs – it is “a difficult job striking the balance between allowing peaceful protests and intervening when things turn sour”.
If officers were to clamp down on protests related to Brexit or any other issue in a heavy-handed way, that would be bad for democracy. For while the use of “threatening or abusive words or behaviour” may be a criminal offence, the European Convention on Human Rights also guarantees the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. These are important rights which all democrats should support.
The important thing in all of this is not to let those who step over the mark by resorting to aggression and threats have any effect on politics. They cannot be allowed to become so intimidating that MPs start keeping their heads down or shy away from making points as effectively as they could. They cannot be allowed to build up a head of steam that ultimately results in violence.
The police will need to pick their moment carefully but, if a similar situation arises, should make clear that they will not allow MPs to be jostled and threatened by an angry mob. However, our politicians also need to stand up to the thugs.
Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay yesterday suggested the “appalling” treatment of fellow Tory MP Anna Soubry was somehow a reason not to hold a second EU referendum, saying it would be “be hugely damaging to our democracy and to our politics”.
If Theresa May’s plan is rejected by MPs, then the UK will be heading towards a no-deal Brexit. May has long argued that the result of the 2016 vote must be respected, but it absolutely did not give MPs a mandate for that potentially catastrophic outcome. That was not the vision offered by Leave campaigners.
So if the UK Government cannot secure a Brexit deal, then it will have to hold a new referendum to ask the public whether the UK should remain in the EU or leave on a no-deal basis. Such an act of economic self-harm requires its own mandate. But thugs in Westminster or anywhere else should not have any influence on those decisions whatsoever.