Keir Starmer has had to be bundled into a police car after protesters surrounded him near parliament and shouted at him that he “protected paedophiles”.
In an incident that could reignite anger over Boris Johnson’s comments that the Labour leader failed to prosecute the child abuser Jimmy Savile, Starmer was rescued by police after an encounter with anti-vaccination protesters.
One witness said a protester carried a hangman’s noose prop which another protester had joked was for Starmer. The Labour leader did not respond the the protesters and was surrounded by police, along with the shadow foreign secretary, David Lammy.
There were shouts of “traitor” at Starmer and “Jimmy Savile” – who Johnson said Starmer had failed to prosecute when he was director of public prosecutions. Starmer did not take the decision but had apologised for institutional failings after Savile’s persistent sexual abuse was revealed.
MPs have criticised Johnson for failing to apologise for the jibe in the House of Commons last week. The comment was criticised by three former chief whips and Munira Mirza, one of Johnson’s closest aides, who headed the No 10 policy unit, quit last week having urged Johnson to retract.
Cabinet ministers have also expressed unease at the comments, including the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, who said during a national press conference: “I wouldn’t have said it.”
The former chief whip Julian Smith, who had called on Johnson to apologise, tweeted: “What happened to Keir Starmer tonight outside parliament is appalling. It is really important for our democracy & for his security that the false Savile slurs made against him are withdrawn in full.”
The Labour MP Chris Bryant tweeted that Johnson’s comments were directly responsible for circulating links between Starmer and Savile, which had originally appeared on far right websites.
“This is appalling. People were shouting all sorts at Keir, including ‘Jimmy Savile’. This is what happens when a prime minister descends into the gutter and recycles lies from hard-right conspiracy theorists. Political poison has an effect. Johnson has no moral compass,” he wrote.
The Labour mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, also blamed Johnson for amplifying false claims. “This is what happens when fake news is amplified and given credibility by people who should know better. Solidarity with Keir Starmer and David Lammy. Thank you to the Met officers for their swift intervention.”
A spokesperson for the Met police said: “A man who had been surrounded by a group of protesters near to New Scotland Yard, was taken away from the scene by a police car.
“A man and a woman were arrested at the scene for assault of an emergency worker after a traffic cone was thrown at a police officer. They have been taken into custody.”