Outrage has engulfed British politics today after a senior Government minister was filmed choke-slamming an apparently peaceful protester against a wall on Thursday evening.
Mark Field MP, a minister in the Foreign Office, was attending a black-tie dinner in Mansion House, London at which Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond and Governor of the Bank of England Mark Carney were keynote speakers.
The event was infiltrated by climate change activists from environment charity Greenpeace. Footage has since emerged of the protesters being removed by security staff.
However, one of the protesters, who has since been identified as long-time Greenpeace activist Janet Barker, broke away from security staff and moved hurriedly towards the main table, where Hammond and Carney were seated.
The formally-dressed attendees watched on in shock as the equally formally-dressed protester was then stopped in her tracks and forced out of the room by Field.
As Barker arrives behind him, Field can be seen leaping out of his chair and lunging towards her, apparently holding her against the wall by her neck.
He is then seen leading her out of the room, requesting assistance from nearby staff to “remove this person”, as Barker continues to flail and resist.
Soon after the incident, Field issued an apology for his conduct, in which he stated that he “deeply regrets” his actions and apologised to Barker “unreservedly”.
He went on to explain his actions: “In the confusion many guests understandably felt threatened and when one protester rushed past me towards the top table I instinctively reacted.”
Field also said that he would be referring himself to the Cabinet Office to investigate whether he broke the ministerial code.
The Government also announced that he would be suspended from his position as Minister of State for Asia and the Pacific while an investigation into the episode is carried out.
The incident has ignited a fierce debate among senior politicians. Dawn Butler, Labour MP and shadow women and equalities minister, called Field’s behaviour “horrific” and said that he “must immediately be suspended or sacked”.
However, several of Field’s Conservative colleagues came to his defence. Fellow Tory MP Johnny Mercer said that, in the current political climate, Field’s actions were understandable.
“He [Field] panicked, he’s not trained in restraint and arrest,” he said. “And if you think this is ‘serious violence’ you may need to recalibrate your sensitivities.”
Some people have caused controversy by invoking Jo Cox, a Labour MP who was killed by a far-right terrorist in 2016, as an explanation for Field’s insecurity around the protesters.
Bob Stewart, another Conservative MP, suggested to BBC Radio 4’s World at One programme that Field may have chosen to target Barker’s neck because if he had “touched her anywhere else he’d probably have been deemed highly inappropriate”.
The incident has placed Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt in an awkward position. As well as currently battling his predecessor Boris Johnson for the leadership of the Conservative Party, Hunt is also Field’s boss at the Foreign Office.
In response to Field’s apology, Hunt sought to defend his colleague’s actions, but also stressed the need for a comprehensive investigation to learn the facts of what had happened.
“Mark [Field] has issued a full and unreserved apology,” he said. “In his interest and in the interest of the lady involved, we need a proper [Cabinet Office] inquiry and that’s what is going to happen.”
Barker has since spoken to the BBC to express her horror at the way Field behaved towards her. She described his actions as “really over the top”.
Barker went on to say that she “didn’t expect to be grabbed by the neck”, and to emphasise the fact that the protest was peaceful, saying the activists had only planned to “stand there dignified”.
You can watch the footage of the entire incident below.