Brexit: Police warn MPs and campaigners not to inflame tensions

Police line outside the House of Commons in Parliament Squar Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Police lined up outside the House of Commons in Parliament Square

Politicians and campaigners should take care not to “inflame” tensions in the UK caused by Brexit, a senior police chief has warned.

Assistant Commissioner Martin Hewitt said people should think carefully to avoid inciting others to violence.

The warning follows increased concern about intimidation of MPs.

Police have 10,000 officers ready to deploy at 24 hours’ notice as part of preparations for a possible no-deal Brexit.

‘Incredibly febrile atmosphere’

But the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) said the measure was only a precaution and they do not expect major problems in any Brexit scenario.

Mr Hewitt, chairman of the NPCC, said the UK was in “an incredibly febrile atmosphere” as a result of the debate over leaving the EU and there was a lot of “angry talk” on social media.

He said: “I think there is a responsibility on those individuals that have a platform and have a voice to communicate in a way that is temperate and is not in any way going to inflame people’s views.”

Officers in charge of policing Parliament said they have seen an increase in abuse aimed at politicians and several MPs have requested increased security.

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Media captionAnna Soubry: “This is astonishing. This is what has happened to our country.”

Speaker John Bercow condemned the behaviour of protesters as a “type of fascism” after Remain-supporting MP Anna Soubry was verbally abused at Westminster, while one pro-Brexit MP took to wearing a body camera on his way in and out of Parliament.

Only a small number of crimes have been linked directly to Brexit, police said, with about half being malicious communications, while the rest included verbal abuse, harassment and offences committed during protests.

But hate crimes remain higher than before the 2016 EU referendum.

In 2017-18, there were 94,098 hate crimes recorded, a 17% rise that is thought to have also been fuelled by the terror attacks in London and Manchester.

With the government having warned of border disruptions and to food supply chains if the UK leaves without a deal, police said they have plans to deal with incidents such as problems on the roads, major protests or even rioting and looting.

They said they will be able to deploy 1,000 officers at an hour’s notice, or more than 10,000 drawn from across England and Wales within 24 hours – more than were used in the 2011 London riots.

Specialised teams such as dog handlers, armed police and search-trained officers will be available, while 1,000 officers have received extra training so they can be deployed to Northern Ireland.

But Chief Constable Charlie Hall, the NPCC lead for operations, said he has warned those in charge of supply chains for food, fuel and other essentials to make their own preparations as officers will only be used “if absolutely necessary”.


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