Conservative MP Mark Field suspended as minister after grabbing climate change activist

  • Video report by ITV News Political Correspondent Libby Wiener

Conservative MP Mark Field has been suspended as a Foreign Office minister while an investigation into him physically removing a climate change protester is carried out, Downing Street confirmed.

Video footage showed Mr Field stopping a female protester by grabbing her by the back of the neck, pushing her against a column before forcibly walking her out of the black-tie event at Mansion House, London.

A Number 10 spokeswoman said: "The Prime Minister has seen the footage and she found it very concerning.

"The police have said they are looking into reports over this matter and Mark Field has also referred himself to both the Cabinet Office and the Conservative Party.

"He will be suspended as a minister while investigations take place."

Mark Field pushed the woman against the column. Credit: ITV News

It came as climate change activists - including men in suits and women wearing red dresses with sashes which read "climate emergency" on them - interrupted a black-tie event where Chancellor Philip Hammond was giving a speech.

In a statement given to ITV News Political Correspondent Paul Brand, Mr Field said he apologised "unreservedly" to the protester Janet Barker.

On Friday afternoon, Ms Barker denied that she has received an apology from Mr Field.

In the statement, Mr Field said: “In the confusion many guests understandably felt threatened and when one protester rushed past me towards the top table I instinctively reacted.

Mark Field marched the woman away from the room as fellow guests look on. Credit: ITV News

“There was no security present and I was for a split-second genuinely worried she might have been armed.

“As a result I grasped the intruder firmly in order to remove her from the room as swiftly as possible.”

He added that he “deeply” regretted the incident and would cooperate fully with a Cabinet Office investigation.

Conservative Party chairman Brandon Lewis told Good Morning Britain that the party would be looking into the incident.

He said it was “very hard to defend” the footage, adding: “It’s hard for anybody to look at that and not be astonished at what they have seen.”

After the footage emerged, Tory MP Sir Peter Bottomley said that Mr Field had done nothing wrong.

He said: “The woman clearly was trying to create a fuss.

“Most viewers would say it’s good that she didn’t succeed.”

When asked if Mr Field had been heavy-handed with the protester by grabbing her by the back of the neck, Sir Peter responded: “No, he reversed her direction and she looked as though she went willingly.

“I think there’s no reason to criticise Mark Field… Of course it wasn’t an assault, it was a reversal of direction.”

Fellow Conservative MP Johnny Mercer tweeted his support for Mr Field, saying: "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."

Conservative leadership hopeful Jeremy Hunt, who is Mark Field's boss at the Foreign Office, said he believed a full investigation was needed.

He said: "What we need now in his interest, but also in the interest of the lady involved, is a proper independent investigation by the Cabinet Office."

When asked about the incident, Mr Hunt added: "I wasn't there, I don't know the situation... I think it's not for me to make a judgement."

  • 'Only one person reacted that way'

Ms Barker told the BBC that she had travelled from her home in Wales to take part in protest.

In the footage where she is being escorted out, she can be heard remonstrating with Mr Field, telling him it was a "peaceful protest".

Ms Barker said: "We quite clearly had our message across us... I stated as well when I was being manhandled out that it's a peaceful protest.

"There was over 300 people in that room at the time and there's only one who reacted in that way."

Ms Barker added that she would not be pressing charges against Mr Field, saying it was the Conservative Party's decision on whether to punish Mr Field or not.

She said: "I don't intend to press charges. I haven't had an apology from him. My prority is the planet."

She added: "The Tory government can sort out their own staff and discpline him as they see fit."

Greenpeace said that Mr Field should have better spent his time tackling the "Climate Emergency" rather than "assaulting peaceful women protesters".

  • Field under pressure to resign

There was condemnation from other MPs who saw the clip of Mr Field.

Labour MP Jess Phillips tweeted: “She posed no credible threat from what I can see. There is very little else that could justify this and anyone can see that this could have been done without physical contact. Every MP has to deal with protest and conflict, it is done with words. To watch this is so so awful.”

Fellow Labour MP Dawn Butler said it was “horrific” and called for Mr Field to be sacked or suspended.

Ms Butler, who is shadow secretary of state for women and equalities, tweeted: “Conservative Foreign Office Minister Mark Field violently grabs a woman as she protests about climate change at the bankers’ banquet. This appears to be assault. He must be immediately suspended or sacked. Due to Violence against women.

“I’m sure I’m not the only one who is wondering why no one intervened. So much violence does not seem justified. An investigation needs to take place as soon as possible.”

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan tweeted: "It is truly shocking to see this kind of behaviour from an MP. Violence against women is endemic in our society and this behaviour is unacceptable. He should consider his position. I welcome the fact the City of London Police are looking into this incident."

Lib Dem MP Chuka Umunna described Mr Field’s actions as “totally unacceptable” while Independent MP Sarah Wollaston said it was “Absolutely shameful, a male MP marching a woman out of a room by her neck.”

Tory MP George Freeman tweeted: “This looks appallingly rough handling of a woman climate protester in a dress. But before everyone rushes to instant armchair judgement can I suggest that all of us who weren’t there & don’t know what was said or done just wait a few hours to hear what those who *were* there say.”

Protesters disrupt Philip Hammond's speech. Credit: PA/Greenpeace

Mr Hammond had barely started his address when activists interrupted the event in the City of London on Thursday night.

The disruption lasted several minutes before a slow hand clap broke out among the seated guests, and Mr Hammond got back to his feet at 9.05pm.

To a round of applause, Mr Hammond then said: “The irony of course is that this is the Government that has just led the world by committing to a zero-carbon economy by 2050.”

Philip Hammond delivers his speech Credit: Simon Dawson/PA

City of London Police confirmed on Friday they had received "several complaints" regarding the incident in central London on Thursday, which they were now looking into.

A spokeswoman for City of London Police said: “We were called at 9.03pm by security staff at Mansion House after a group of protesters had gained entry to an event being held on the premises and were refusing to leave.

"Officers arrived and helped security staff escort the protesters out of the building. No arrests were made.

“We have received a small number of third party reports of an assault taking place at the event. These reports are being looked into by police.”

Greenpeace later said 40 of its activists had interrupted the event, which was being broadcast live on television.

Footage later released by Greenpeace shows a line-up of protesters walking alongside the building, then rushing up a set of stairs and streaming into the dining hall.

A spokesman said he would not comment on how the group managed to evade security to get into the high-profile event.