Wave of milkshake-tossing protests hits Britain

Christopher Wilson
Senior Writer

In the latest in a series of milkshake assaults on British politicians, Nigel Farage, a leader of the Brexit movement to withdraw from the European Union, was doused with a milkshake Monday while campaigning in Newcastle Upon Tyne for a seat in the European Parliament.

Farage, an ally of President Trump, is not the first politician to suffer a milkshake protest, as pro-Brexit candidate Carl Benjamin has been hit with four milkshakes over the last week and far-right activist Tommy Robinson was hit with milkshakes on consecutive days earlier this month. Benjamin, an anti-feminist YouTuber, is under investigation for comments he made about raping a British legislator, and Robinson spent time in prison for a contempt of court charge. Violence broke out a Robinson rally over the weekend.

Paul Crowther, 32, was arrested at the scene on suspicion of common assault.

“It’s a right of protest against people like [Farage],” he said.

Crowther told the reporters that the liquid was a banana and salted caramel milkshake from Five Guys, adding, “I was quite looking forward to it, but I think it went on a better purpose.”

Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage after being hit with a milkshake during a campaign walkabout for the upcoming European Parliament elections in Newcastle Upon Tyne, England, May 20, 2019. (Photo: Tom Wilkinson/PA via AP)

According to a reporter from the Guardian, Farage admonished his security team for not seeing the milkshake coming.

The protest came after authorities had attempted to protect Farage, including asking a McDonald’s in Edinburgh to not serve milkshakes while the Brexit Party leader was speaking there. Farage tweeted after the event: “Sadly some remainers have become radicalised, to the extent that normal campaigning is becoming impossible,” and he told police he would press assault charges against Crowther.

The man who threw the first milkshake volley at Robinson, Danyaal Mahmud, told the Observer he was receiving death threats. According to Mahmud, he was the only Asian person in a Unite Against Fascism protest against Robinson, and he threw the milkshake after he was confronted by the candidate and his supporters.

Tim Bale, a professor of politics at Queen Mary University of London, told Yahoo News that the milkshake protests were the continuation of a trend in British politics.

“We’ve got a long history of throwing things at politicians,” Bale said. “You can go back to the 1960s when the prime minister had eggs thrown at him and actually took it in pretty good heart. It’s not really perhaps the most serious threat that’s ever been leveled against a politician. I think it’s really a way of people who feel very strongly protesting as what they see against some very extremist politicians, getting a mention in the news by doing it without being at much risk of being condemned by the rest of the public. Although perhaps they shouldn’t, I think the British public will find this slightly amusing rather than a worrying trend.”

Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage has what is thought to have been a milkshake thrown over him in Newcastle Upon Tyne during a whistle-stop U.K. tour on May 20, 2019. (Photo: Ian Forsyth/Getty Images)

While public opinion is still out, the milkshaking of Farage drew a rebuke from Prime Minister Theresa May.

"The Prime Minister supports efforts to stamp out unacceptable and unlawful behaviour and where incidents of harassment and abuse constitutes a criminal offence it should be taken seriously by the police,” said May’s office in a statement Monday. “The Prime Minister has been clear that politicians should be able to go about their work and campaign without harassment, intimidation or abuse. In this case, an arrest has already been made so I can't comment further.”

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair also condemned the protest.

"Horrible and ridiculous and people shouldn't do it,” said Blair. “I can't stand this, I really feel very strongly about this. The guy is entitled to his point of view. But we've got to get out of this situation where if you disagree with someone, you stop them speaking, you disrupt their meetings, you throw things over them, it's ridiculous."

Bale sees the possibility of milkshake protests shifting to more mainstream politicians with Farage as the gateway.

“The question will be whether like populism itself will it move into the mainstream,” said Bale. “Will we see Conservative, Labour, Liberal-Democrat, mainstream centrist politicians get the same treatment? Some people would say there is a big difference between someone like Tommy Robinson who is really rather a borderline, racist case and someone like Nigel Farage, who love him or hate him — and a lot of people hate him — is a more conventional politician, certainly not someone who has gone to prison and been in trouble with the police in the same way that Tommy Robinson has.”

The milkshakes are an evolution from the traditional egging, which has been a relatively common occurrence for British politicians. Eggs were thrown at Prime Ministers Harold Wilson and John Major in 1970 and 1992, respectively. In 2001, Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott threw a punch at a protester who egged him.

Labour leader Ed Miliband after he was pelted with eggs during a 2013 campaign visit in London. (Photo: Lewis Whyld/PA Images via Getty Images)

In 2010, Conservative Party leader and future prime minister David Cameron was hit with an egg thrown by a student. Former Labour leader Ed Milliband was egged in 2013 by a man who said he disapproved of both parties handling of the poor, particularly the homeless, and current Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was hit with one earlier this year by a man who disagreed with Corbyn’s anti-Brexit stance. Prior to Monday’s milkshake incident, Farage was hit with an egg in 2014.

Others who have been on the receiving end of eggs, in Britain and elsewhere, include Simon Cowell and Arnold Schwarzenegger, who shrugged off the protest during his California gubernatorial campaign, saying, “This guy owes me bacon now.”

Other time-honored culinary methods of protest include chocolate eclairsgreen custard and cream pies. Protesters in the United States tend to favor pies. The list of recipients includes Microsoft founder Bill Gates, designer Calvin Klein, former Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader, former Vermont Gov. James Douglas, Michigan Sen. Carl Levin, Watergate perpetrator G. Gordon Liddy, physicist Edward Teller, conservative pundit Bill Kristol and, most recently, former Sacramento, Calif., Mayor Kevin Johnson in 2016. Former vice presidential candidate and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin successfully avoided tomatoes thrown at her during a 2009 book signing.

But in Bale’s opinion, the milkshakes have already proven to be a very effective tool for protesters.

“In some ways, it’s a very effective form of protest,” said Bale. “One, we’re talking about it now, right? It’s all over the media at the moment. And two, it does kind of ruin a politician’s suit and puts them out of action for an hour or two unless they’ve got a spare suit being carried everywhere. It’s not like the odd bit of egg that you can just brush off. To be honest, once one of these guys has thrown a milkshake over you, you look like you’ve been crapped on from a height by a seagull and you can’t really carry on until you change.”