LONDON (Reuters) - British lawmakers called on the police on Tuesday to do more to tackle intimidation of politicians and journalists outside parliament after protesters shouted verbal abuse at a prominent pro-EU Conservative during live television interviews.
More than 2-1/2 years since Britain voted by 52 to 48 percent to leave the European Union, the country remains deeply divided and both pro-Brexit and pro-EU protesters are a regular fixture in the gardens opposite parliament.
Some campaigners wrap themselves in huge EU flags while others hold banners on long poles so they can be seen in the background of temporary broadcast studios on raised platforms.
The area, a public space, is regularly used by media for interviews and while protests have been largely peaceful, politicians and journalists have complained the atmosphere has turned increasingly nasty in recent weeks.
On Monday, Conservative lawmaker Anna Soubry, who has called for a second referendum on Brexit, faced chants of “Soubry is a Nazi” and “liar” as she was interviewed.
“I do object to being called a Nazi,” Soubry interrupted the interview to say. “I just think this is astonishing. This is what has happened to our country.”
The abuse continued as Soubry walked back across the road to parliament after the interview, with mobile phone footage shared on Twitter showing her surrounded by men, some sporting the yellow vests similar to those worn by protesters in Paris, shouting “liar”, “fascist” and “scum” at her.
Sky News journalist Kay Burley, one of the broadcasters whose interview with Soubry was overshadowed by the protests, has also faced abuse and says she now has security protection.
In a letter to the Commissioner of London’s Metropolitan Police, Cressida Dick, a group of 60 lawmakers said they were concerned about the “deteriorating public order and security situation” around parliament.
“An ugly element of individuals with strong far right and extreme right connections ... have increasingly engaged in intimidatory and potentially criminal acts,” the lawmakers, both pro-EU and pro-Brexit and from all political parties, wrote.
House of Commons Speaker John Bercow said he too has written to police on the issue.
Laurence Taylor, Deputy Assistant Commissioner for Met Operations, said there was an “appropriate policing plan in place” around parliament and police were assessing whether any crimes had been committed.
“We will deal robustly with incidents of harassment and abuse against anyone where that harassment or abuse constitutes a criminal offence,” he said in a statement.
Labour lawmaker Stephen Doughty, who organised the letter, told BBC TV that there could be a repeat of the murder of Labour lawmaker Jo Cox, killed in a frenzied street attack a week before the 2016 Brexit vote by a man obsessed with Nazis and extreme right-wing ideology.
Last year, a man accused of being a member of a far-right group pleaded guilty to plotting to kill another female Labour lawmaker who, like Cox, was targeted because she was perceived as supporting immigration.
Abuse has taken place across the political divide, with left-wing author and Labour supporter Owen Jones also posting a video on Twitter of protesters shouting insults like “traitor” at him as he walked down the street outside parliament.
While many of those facing abuse have been supporters of remaining in the EU, pro-Brexit campaigners have also been targeted.
In September, Conservative lawmaker Jacob Rees-Mogg, a prominent campaigner for Brexit, was confronted outside his home by activists who told his children “your daddy is a horrible person” and “lots of people hate him”.
Additional reporting by Michael Holden; editing by Stephen Addison