NEWS
25/06/2019 8:37 AM IST

A Grim Three Days For Women In UK Politics - From Boris Johnson To Mark Field

What exactly happened this weekend – and how did some Tory MPs react?

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Boris Johnson 

Over the past three days, the news in UK has been dominated by male Tory MPs and their interactions with women. 

From Mark Field’s manhandling of a Greenpeace protester at a black-tie dinner on Thursday, to police being called to Boris Johnson’s home with his girlfriend Carrie Symonds over a domestic row, it has been a tense few days. 

Mandu Reid, leader of the Women’s Equality Party, told HuffPost UK on Monday that the fact some Tory MPs had leapt to defend both Field and Johnson “shows an unforgivable disregard for gendered violence, amounting to apologism”. 

“We don’t know what occurred between Boris Johnson and Carrie Symonds on Thursday night but by downplaying that incident Tory MPs are reinforcing the dangerous idea that we don’t have a collective responsibility to challenge male aggression when it occurs,” she said, adding that we live in a society that “normalises male violence”. 

But what exactly happened this weekend – and how did some Tory MPs react? 

Thursday 

Late on Thursday night, footage emerged of Tory MP Mark Field grabbing a female Greenpeace protester who had interrupted a speech by Chancellor Philip Hammond at a black-tie City dinner. 

The video – filmed at the annual Mansion House speech – showed Field shoving the climate change activist against a pillar before holding her by the neck and pushing her out of the room. 

A call of “Jeez... what?” could be heard on the video as the woman – later identified as 38-year-old Janet Barker – was removed from the banquet hall. 

Friday 

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Cities of London and Westminster MP Mark Field 

As you might expect, the news on Friday morning was dominated by discussion of the incident, with Labour calling for Field to resign. 

While the party’s equalities minister Dawn Butler described the moment as “horrific”, calling for the Tory MP to be sacked “due to violence against women”, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan tweeted: “Violence against women is endemic in our society and this behaviour is unacceptable. He should consider his position.”  

But a number of Conservative MPs jumped to Field’s defence, echoing his argument that he was “genuinely worried she might have been armed”.

Further footage from the event also suggested the Greenpeace campaigners had been in the room for a while before Field – who has been the MP for the Cities of London and Westminster since 2001 – reacted to Barker’s presence near his table. 

Former Army officer Johnny Mercer tweeted: “Honestly? Try being in our shoes in the current environment.

“He panicked, he’s not trained in restraint and arrest, and if you think this is ‘serious violence’, you may need to recalibrate your sensitivities. Calm down, move on, and be thankful this wasn’t worse.”

Meanwhile, Conservative Bob Stewart suggested Field had no choice but to push the protester by the neck because “she wasn’t wearing a collar”.

“How the heck, as a man, how do you hold a woman that is not in an inappropriate way?” he said.

“You can’t hold her by the wrist, you can’t hold her by the waist, you can’t hold her by lower down, you can’t hold her by the chest,” Stewart continued. “The only way you can really control someone in those circumstances is possibly by the collar. But she wasn’t wearing a collar.

“So that’s why his hand was probably round her neck. If he’d have touched her anywhere else he’d have probably been deemed highly inappropriate and he was trying to stop something.”

However, Field was later suspended from his role as a Foreign Office minister pending investigation, with Theresa May calling footage of the incident “very concerning”. 

Field also apologised to Barker and referred himself to the Cabinet Office and Tory Party. 

Friday... continued 

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Boris Johnson at a leadership hustings in Birmingham on Saturday 

Having suspended one minister (and another MP having been removed by recall petition on Friday), Conservative Party bosses were probably hoping for a quiet weekend.

But any such ambitions were dashed on Friday evening after the Guardian revealed that police were called to the home of Boris Johnson and his partner Carrie Symonds in the early hours of that morning after neighbours “heard a loud altercation involving screaming, shouting and banging”.

According to the newspaper, a neighbour heard Symonds tell Johnson to “get off me” and “get out of my flat”.

In a statement, the Met Police told the Guardian that officers attended the address, where everyone was “safe and well”.

There were no offenses or concerns apparent to the officers and there was no cause for police action,” they said.

Saturday 

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Johnson is in the race to replace Theresa May in Number 10 

It was on Saturday that the row over the incident at Johnson and Symonds’ home really escalated, with a number of Tory MPs coming out in defence of the Tory leadership frontrunner. 

In a now-deleted tweet, security minister Ben Wallace said: “What a non story ‘couple have row.’ Lefty neighbours give recording to Guardian. Newspaper reaches new low is a better news story”. 

Meanwhile, Brexit minister James Cleverly – who has backed Johnson in the leadership race – suggested that the decision by neighbours to call the police was politically-motivated. 

“The big element in the Boris story isn’t that there was a heated argument, it’s that the police were called,” he wrote on Twitter. 

“The police were called by the same person who recorded Boris and gave the story to the Guardian.”  

Since then, Priti Patel has likened the decision by Johnson’s neighbour to tape the argument to “the type of behaviour associated with the old Eastern bloc”, while Jacob Rees-Mogg called it “absolutely dreadful”. 

“I think the idea that snooping neighbours are recording what is going on for political advantage and then Class War protesters are coming to politicians’ front doors – which happened to me as well – is not a good place for politics to be,” he told LBC on Monday. 

But SafeLives, a domestic abuse charity, encouraged people to call the police if they thought someone’s safety was at risk. 

“The weekend has been full of comment about the relationship we have with our neighbours,” the group said in a statement. 

“It’s not for us to judge what happens in anyone’s relationship, but it is for us all to take action if we are concerned about someone’s safety. That’s a natural human instinct. Let’s support it rather than challenge it.

“Don’t walk on by if you are worried. Ask if they are ok. Tell someone. Call the police.”

During a leadership hustings in Birmingham on Saturday, Johnson refused to answer questions about the incident. 

Repeatedly ducking queries about the row, the contender for PM said: “People are entitled to ask me what I want to do for the country”, later adding that he had made it “pretty obvious from the foregoing” he would not be commenting. 

Labour MP Jess Philips – who worked for a domestic abuse charity for a number of years before joining parliament – criticised Johnson for passing on the opportunity “to give an explanation and to say to the nation that it was the right thing for the neighbours to call the police and the right thing for them to try to gather evidence”. 

“This is what everyone should do,” she told LBC. “But instead his very poor character has picked himself over the safety of women in this country, and the line that he is putting out is this is a private family matter.”