Boris Johnson does not need to apologise for a discredited Jimmy Savile slur against Sir Keir Starmer after the Labour leader was surrounded by a mob outside Parliament, according to a UK Government minister.
Chris Philp, digital minister in Johnson’s Government, said that the Prime Minister had already clarified the unfounded claims he made in the House of Commons.
The Prime Minister has been urged to again apologise after ugly scenes in Westminster on Monday evening when Starmer and the shadow foreign secretary David Lammy were surrounded by protesters.
The Labour MPs were faced with baseless allegations including “protecting paedophiles” shouted by those gathered outside Parliament.
Starmer was bundled into a police car for protection from the assembled mob.
Asked about the scenes, Philp told the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland programme on Tuesday: “I think it was shocking and appalling.
“No democratically elected representative, least of all the Leader of the Opposition, but frankly any democratically elected MP from any party, or anyone running for office, should have to suffer the intimidation and harassment that Keir Starmer and David Lammy suffered.”
He continued: “The Times reports today that some of the people involved in yesterday’s appalling harassment are people who have done this previously to other public figures, including Michael Gove and BBC journalist Nick Watt.
“And if you listen to the whole clip of the appalling incident, which I have… the version that I saw lasted about three minutes, they did mention Jimmy Savile, but most of what they were shouting about was to do with Julian Assange and Covid and the conduct of the opposition.”
Philp, however, denied that the Prime Minister should be required to apologise following the incident.
“No, I think what he was doing was drawing attention to Keir Starmer’s responsibility for the Crown Prosecution Service when he was director of public prosecutions,” he said of Johnson’s original remarks.
“And to be clear, Keir Starmer himself subsequently, I think in 2013, apologised for the CPS’ mishandling of that case for which he had overall responsibility but not specific personal responsibility.”
Asked again if the Prime Minister should apologise, he said: “No, because the Prime Minister has already, a couple of days after this, just to make absolutely sure there was no scope for any misinterpretation, he clarified, I think it was in Blackpool a couple of days afterwards, that he was not suggesting at any point that Keir Starmer had personal or individual responsibility for the conduct of the Savile investigation.”
Philp doubled down on the comments of Johnson, though admitted that they were “capable” of being misinterpreted.
“The words he spoke were capable of misinterpretation. I think they were accurate, but capable of misinterpretation,” he said.
“The victims of Jimmy Savile were let down by the failures of the criminal justice system, which included the Crown Prosecution Service over a period of many years.
“The failings are amongst the law enforcement community who either didn’t investigate properly or prosecute Jimmy Savile over a period of many, many years.
“They are the people who have let down Jimmy Savile’s victims.”
Philp added: “In political debate and argument, both sides very often criticise the track record of their opponents, including the track record of organisations for which a particular politician, of either side, has overall responsibility.”
Insight – Colin Mackay, STV News political editor
The abuse of Sir Keir Starmer by an angry mob outside the House of Commons is bad for democracy.
This is not the normal cut and thrust of political debate; this is not a normal protest about making your voice heard or making a point.
This is about intimidating someone you disagree with or don’t like – this is about hate.
We have seen other politicians and journalists targeted recently, Michael Gove and Newsnight’s Nick Watt chased by similar groups.
And it is not just in London, last year we saw it happen to Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar outside the Scottish Parliament.
It is sad to see but not surprising. Donald Trump spent much of his election campaign attacking and belittling Hilary Clinton, whipping up hatred against her among his supporters.
Some people will have seen that and watched four years of his Presidency and thought it is the normal way to behave on protests. It is not. It’s what led to the storming of the Capitol, a real attack on democracy.
Boris Johnson’s comments in Parliament last week linking the Labour leader, and former Director of Public Prosecution, to the failure to prosecute the paedophile Jimmy Savile has given these people something else to shout at Sir Keir Starmer as well as shouting about Brexit, mask-wearing, and covid vaccinations.
It deepens and strengthens a conspiracy theory. And the last thing politics needs right now is more conspiracy theories and more hatred.