Theresa May condemns abuse of MPs over Brexit
Theresa May has condemned abuse of MPs following last week’s Brexit vote.
The prime minister said despite “strongly held views” on both sides of the Commons there was no place for threats of violence and intimidation.
Several Conservative MPs have received abusive messages and tweets because of their views on Brexit.
Speaker John Bercow said MPs were public servants doing what they thought to be right and were “never mutineers, traitors nor enemies of the people”.
Two of the MPs who rebelled against the government last week, Anna Soubry and Nicky Morgan, said they had contacted the police about threats they received.
Ms Soubry suggested dossiers of material she had handed to the Speaker showed a direct link between newspaper headlines attacking her views and actions on Brexit and threats of violence against herself.
“This is serious stuff,” she said. “We have to call it out…I believe in freedom of the press but everyone has a responsibility not to incite abuse and death threats.”
As she ended her statement on last week’s EU summit, Mrs May said it was right to debate Brexit with “passion and conviction”.
“But there can never be a place for the threats of violence and intimidation against some members that we have seen in recent days,” she said. “Our politics must be better than that.”
In a Commons statement shortly afterwards, Home Secretary Amber Rudd said the “bullying and demeaning” actions of a small minority of people was a reminder there was a “dark, unpleasant underbelly of society”.
While she said she personally did not check her Twitter timeline any more, she said young people who “lived on” social media must be able to continue to do so safely.
Responding for Labour, shadow home secretary Diane Abbott said there was a case for “punitive fines” for social media firms which do not promptly act on abusive material, including rape and death threats.
The Daily Mail, which was criticised for publishing the photos of the 11 Tory MPs who voted against the government last week under the headline “Proud of Yourselves?”, said its journalists also received violent abuse on social media and it was committed to “tackling this menace”.
“No one has been more outspoken than the Daily Mail in condemning the viciousness of social media, and in particular the threats and abuse directed at politicians of all parties,” a spokesman said.
“What must never happen is that it is used as an excuse to prevent proper and trenchant debate on the great political issues of the day, including Brexit.”
EU trade options
In her statement, Mrs May also said the agreement secured at the summit to move talks on to the UK and EU’s future relationship was “an important step in delivering the smooth and orderly Brexit people voted for”.
The prime minister also insisted the UK could secure a “bespoke” trade deal with the EU after Brexit despite the EU’s chief negotiator suggesting this cannot happen.
Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn said the agreement on what had been negotiated so far had been “cobbled together” with a “vagueness” that “underlines the sharp divisions within the cabinet”.
The UK voted to leave the European Union in June 2016 and Brexit is due to happen at 23:00 GMT on 29 March, 2019.