Boris Johnson was under mounting pressure on Monday to offer a full apology to Sir Keir Starmer, after the prime minister’s “Trump-style” rhetoric was linked to a mob surrounding the Labor leader at Westminster.
Starmer had to be bundled into a police car after a crowd, some of whom were screaming “paedophile”, surrounded by the Labor leader and the shadow foreign secretary, David Lammy. Two people were arrested.
The incident created huge cross-party pressure on Johnson to apologize fully for his claim that Starmer, as director of public prosecutions, “spent most of his time” not prosecuting the paedophile Jimmy Savile.
It also reopened questions on Johnson’s leadership, after a day of relative calm in which his new Downing Street team began work. On Monday he sang “I Will Survive” with his new communications chief, Guto Harry.
The scenes of anti-vax protesters rounding on Starmer with shouts of “traitor” and “Jimmy Savile” were condemned by MPs from all sides, with a clamor for Johnson to fully retract his remarks of last week.
Lammy said it was “no surprise the conspiracy theorist thugs who harassed Keir Starmer and I repeated slurs we heard from Boris Johnson last week at the despatch box”.
Julian Smith, former Tory chief whip, was one of seven Tory MPs to publicly demand an apology from the prime minister. He said: “What happened to Keir Starmer tonight outside parliament is appalling.
“It is really important for our democracy and for his security that the false Savile slurs made against him are withdrawn in full.”
Johnson last week “clarified” his remarks – he said he was only noting Starmer’s responsibility for the Crown Prosecution Service as a whole – and on Monday he joined the condemnation of the mob scenes at Westminster.
“The behavior directed at the Leader of the Opposition tonight is absolutely disgraceful,” he tweeted. “All forms of harassment of our elected representatives are completely unacceptable. I thank the police for responding swiftly. ”
But one well-placed Conservative official said the incident was “very serious” and that cabinet ministers were discussing the implications for the prime minister.
“The impact of this may be measured in public sympathy for Keir as much as antipathy for Boris, which is already plumbing the depths,” the Conservative said. “He should write a proper letter to Keir expressing remorse and respect.”
Chris Bryant, Labor chair of the Commons standards committee, said Johnson had taken a leaf out of “the Donald Trump playbook”, by playing into rightwing conspiracy theories.
“This is despicable,” he said. “It’s deliberate. It’s not accidental – it’s an attempt to incite a mob either online or physically in person. ” He added: “It’s not how we do politics in this country.”
The Conservatives last week won a by-election in Southend West caused by the death of David Amess, who was fatally stabbed at a constituency surgery last October.
The Metropolitan Police said on Monday night that a man and a woman were arrested after a traffic cone was thrown at officers at the scene in Westminster. Starmer was not hurt during the incident.
Penny Mordaunt, a minister who is said to be eyeing a Tory party leadership bid if Johnson was toppled, tweeted soon after the event about the “appalling scenes”, adding: “This should be condemned by all.”
Sajid Javid, the health secretary, last week praised Starmer’s work as DPP and on Monday night tweeted: “There’s no place for intimidation or harassment in our democracy. I’m grateful to the police for their swift intervention. “
Rishi Sunak, chancellor, last week also distanced himself from Johnson’s remarks, saying he would not have made them. Munira Mirza, Number 10 policy unit chief, quit because Johnson refused to apologize fully.
Starmer last week accused Johnson of “parroting the conspiracy theories of violent fascists” for political gain. Rightwing groups in the US have also alleged that paedophile rings operate at the top of American politics.