Boris Johnson is facing fresh calls to withdraw a “slur” against Keir Starmer after the U.K.’s opposition leader was confronted by an angry mob espousing the same line of attack.
MPs from across the political divide reacted with anger after footage posted on social media showed the Labour leader being bundled into a police car outside the House of Commons to shield him from protesters whose chants included “you’re protecting pedophiles” and “you should be hung.”
It comes amid a bitter row in Westminster over Johnson’s claim — disputed by fact-checkers and already leading to a high-profile government resignation — that Starmer had spent his time as the country’s top prosecutor “failing to prosecute” Jimmy Savile, one of the U.K.’s most prolific child sex offenders.
Johnson has so far refused to apologize directly for the comments, but said Monday night that the harassment of Starmer was “absolutely disgraceful.”
He added on Twitter: “All forms of harassment of our elected representatives are completely unacceptable. I thank the police for responding swiftly.”
Labour and Conservative lawmakers reacted with fury after the incident — with some urging Johnson to go further.
Shadow Foreign Secretary David Lammy, who was with Starmer as he was mobbed by protesters, directly blamed the fracas on Johnson’s Savile line.
“No surprise the conspiracy theorist thugs who harassed [Starmer] and I repeated slurs we heard from [Johnson] last week at the despatch box,” Lammy tweeted. “Intimidation, harassment and lies have no place in our democracy.”
Julian Smith, a Conservative MP and former Cabinet minister, said it was “important for our democracy and for [Starmer’s] security that the false Savile slurs made against him are withdrawn in full.”
He was backed up by the Tory MP Robert Largan, a typically loyal backbencher — illustrating the growing discontent in Johnson’s party about whether he went too far with the attack on Starmer.
Members of Johnson’s government also condemned the scenes in Westminster, while stopping short of drawing a link with Johnson’s comments. Home Secretary Priti Patel said members of parliament “must be able to go about their lives without fear of threats or intimidation.”
The crossbench peer John Woodcock, a former Labour MP who was appointed by the government as an independent adviser on political violence, described Monday evening’s footage as “disturbing” and said Johnson should “reflect and withdraw” his comments on Savile.
A Labour official said Starmer was safe and back at his desk after encountering the protesters, who according to some media reports were carrying a noose.
The incident comes just months after the murder of Conservative MP MP David Amess sparked concerns about the safety of MPs. Amess was stabbed multiple times in October 2021 while meeting constituents. Just five years earlier, the Labour MP Jo Cox was assassinated by a man who shouted “Britain first” as he attacked.