(Bloomberg) -- U.K. Foreign Office Minister Mark Field was suspended from government after forcibly removing a female protester from a City of London dinner on Thursday evening.
Opposition politicians demanded Field should be fired after footage on social media showed him grabbing the woman, one of about 40 environmental protesters who interrupted a speech by U.K. Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond. Conservative Party Chairman Brandon Lewis told ITV that Field’s actions were “very hard to defend” and promised an investigation.
Field “will be suspended as a minister while there are investigations taking place,” Prime Minister Theresa May’s spokeswoman Alison Donnelly told reporters in London on Friday. The premier found the footage “disturbing.”
Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who is in the runoff with Boris Johnson to become the next Conservative Party leader and prime minister, told Sky News an independent inquiry from someone “with a cool head” would “reach the right conclusions.”
Field said he referred himself to the Cabinet Office for a ruling on whether he breached the ministerial code after campaigners from the Greenpeace group burst into the Egyptian Hall in Mansion House, where Hammond had just started his speech focusing on his legacy at the Treasury and Brexit.
“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,” Field said in a statement. “I deeply regret this episode and unreservedly apologize to the lady concerned for grabbing her, but in the current climate I felt the need to act decisively to close down the threat to the safety of those present.”
A video posted by ITV showed Field appearing to push the protester against a wall and grab her by the neck and forcing her out of the hall.
Dawn Butler, equality spokeswoman for the opposition Labour Party, said on Twitter Field should be suspended or sacked “due to violence against women.”
Hannah Martin, who works for Greenpeace and joined the protest, told the BBC the group were peaceful protesters and wanted to deliver an alternative speech emphasizing the need for action on climate change. The protest was led by women deliberately to reduce the sense of threat, she said.
“What he did was completely disproportionate and unacceptable really, particularly for a sitting member of Parliament,” Martin said. “She was carrying no weapon, there was nobody else in the room that felt it necessary to respond in that way.”
The issue will likely prove a test for Field’s boss, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who on Thursday secured a place in the final run-off to become next prime minister.
Hammond, who was visibly annoyed by the protesters, afterward told the room: “This is the government who has just led the world by committing to a zero-carbon economy by 2050.”
Prime Minister Theresa May announced last week that the U.K. will adopt laws that require a cut in net emissions from fossil fuels and other greenhouse gases to zero by 2050. The move, recommended by the government’s Committee on Climate Change, won backing from across the political spectrum.
But Hammond raised concern about the cost, writing in a letter to May that it would cost taxpayers 1 trillion pounds ($1.3 trillion) at the expense of investment in schools, police, hospitals and other public spending, according to a person familiar with the matter.
While the Treasury supports the emissions reduction target, it wants a review before the final decision is made, the person said.
“The whole incident was a surprise -- in one sense it was uncomfortable, but they got their message across, they achieved what they wanted to do,” Lord Mayor of London Peter Estlin, who hosted the dinner, told Bloomberg TV on Friday when asked about the incident with the protesters. Whether Field should resign is a matter for “Mark to deal with,” he said.
--With assistance from Francine Lacqua and Robert Hutton.
To contact the reporters on this story: Jessica Shankleman in London at firstname.lastname@example.org;Thomas Penny in London at email@example.com
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Tim Ross at firstname.lastname@example.org, Stuart Biggs
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