LONDON — A British official was suspended from the Foreign Office after he grabbed a Greenpeace U.K. protester by the neck and forcibly ejected her from a black-tie dinner in London’s financial district, the prime minister’s office said on Friday.
Video of the encounter on Thursday night showed the official, Mark Field, a Conservative member of Parliament, jumping from his seat, grabbing the protester and shoving her against a post. She and fellow climate activists, all dressed in red gowns with sashes declaring a “Climate Emergency,” had flooded the room where the chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, was delivering his annual address on the state of the economy.
The footage drew outrage, and Greenpeace U.K. accused Mr. Field of assault, with one of the activists taking part, Hannah Martin, telling BBC Radio on Friday “What he did, as anybody can see from the video, was completely disproportionate and unacceptable, particularly for a sitting member of Parliament.”
She later posted on Twitter: “There’s nothing like a female led peaceful protest to bring out the true character of an entitled man.”
Mr. Field later apologized, saying in a statement to the British TV network ITV on Friday, “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.”
He called the presence of the Greenpeace activists a “major security breach,” adding: “In the confusion many guests understandably felt threatened and when one protester rushed past me towards the top table I instinctively reacted. I was for a split-second genuinely worried she might have been armed.”
Mr. Field said he had referred himself for an official investigation. His parliamentary office did not respond to a request for further comment on Friday. The City of London Police said on Friday that it was looking into “a number of third-party reports of a possible assault,” according to the BBC.
In an interview with the BBC on Friday, the protester, identified as Janet Barker of Wales, said she would not file a complaint with the police.
“I want him to reflect on what he did and not do it again,” Ms. Barker said. “Maybe he should go to anger management classes.”
Several of Mr. Field’s fellow lawmakers condemned his actions. In a post on Twitter, Tonia Antoniazzi, a Labour lawmaker, said he should “resign and be arrested.” George Freeman, a Conservative lawmaker, said the footage looked “appallingly rough,” but called for restraint from “instant armchair judgment.”
Others defended Mr. Field’s actions, with a Conservative member of Parliament, Peter Bottomley, saying that Mr. Field deserved “to be congratulated” for his actions. Mr. Bottomley told the BBC that his colleague’s reaction had been appropriate and proportionate, adding: “I would’ve done the same. Most other diners there would have done the same.”
Invoking the fatal shooting of the politician Jo Cox in 2016, Mr. Bottomley said that if someone had intervened before Ms. Cox had been killed, “that would’ve been good.”
But Ms. Martin countered that the Greenpeace protesters had declared immediately who they were, and that anyone watching the video could see that the woman had posed no threat. She said the protester had been walking “peacefully” behind Mr. Field, that her hands had been clearly visible, and that she had been handing out leaflets.
Instead, she said, Mr. Field slammed the protester against the pillar and pushed her out by her neck. “Many other people blocked or prevented us from delivering our speech,” Ms. Martin added, without “slamming us against poles.”
In the footage, Ms. Barker could be seen grimacing and shouting, “It’s a peaceful protest” as Mr. Field shoved her past a row of diners and toward the door.
According to Greenpeace, 40 of its volunteers had crashed the chancellor’s speech, which was being broadcast on live television. The women began reading an alternative speech calling for more decisive action to stop the effects of climate change.
Thursday night’s event, known as the Bankers’ and Merchants’ dinner, is held each year in a gilded hall at Mansion House, the official residence of the Lord Mayor of London, the leader of the city’s financial district. It is notable for speeches from the chancellor of the Exchequer and the governor of the Bank of England, but it has come under scrutiny in an age of austerity for gathering together the leaders of the city’s biggest banks and financial institutions in a luxury setting.
In 2017, the dinner was canceled out of respect for the victims of the deadly Grenfell Tower fire.
Mr. Field has been a Conservative lawmaker for the Cities of London and Westminster, among the richest constituencies in Britain, since 2001. As a Foreign Office minister, his portfolio includes climate change. But in April, Mr. Field — citing the disruption to local residents and businesses — asked the Metropolitan Police for “a much firmer grip” on climate protesters who were blocking traffic in the center of London this spring.
After the protesters had left the dinner, Mr. Hammond, looking calm and composed, continued his speech, saying to cheers from the audience, “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.”
This month, Prime Minister Theresa May proposed legislation to bring Britain’s net production of greenhouse gases to zero by 2050. This would make the country the first of the world’s major economic powers to end its contribution to global warming.
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