Mark Field, a minister in Britain’s Foreign Office, was suspended on Friday after he grabbed a Greenpeace activist by the neck at a black-tie dinner.
British minister suspended after grabbing climate change protester by the neck

A Downing Street spokeswoman said Prime Minister Theresa May had watched footage of the incident and “found it very concerning.”

In a video, Field can be seen rising from his chair, pushing a female protester against a marble pillar, grabbing her by the neck, and marching her out of the room. The protester is clutching leaflets and wearing a red dress with a sash that says “climate emergency.” 

Field apologized “unreservedly” while also defending his action as a response to a perceived danger.

“In the confusion, many guests understandably felt threatened, and when one protester rushed past me towards the top table, I instinctively reacted,” he said in a statement to ITV. “There was no security present, and I was for a split-second genuinely worried she might have been armed

The event Thursday night was the annual Mansion House gala in London’s financial district. Greenpeace activists sneaked in, and as Chancellor Philip Hammond began his remarks, they started shouting an alternative speech on climate change. Video shows a female activist walking by a table of seated guests when Field intervenes.

Janet Barker, the protester, told the BBC that she was hoping to hand out copies of the alternative climate speech in her hand and that Field’s actions were “over the top.” She said that she would not be pressing charges but that Field may want to “go to anger management classes.”

When asked if Field should be fired, Jeremy Hunt — the foreign secretary and one of two finalists to be the next prime minister — told reporters that “there’s a process going on, and it’s going to be looked at independently.”

Field is suspended without pay for the duration of the investigation.

Several politicians criticized his reaction as disproportionate.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan called it “truly shocking” and said that “violence against women is endemic in our society and this behaviour is unacceptable. He should consider his position.”

Sarah Wollaston, an independent lawmaker, said, “Absolutely shameful, a male MP marching a woman out of a room by her neck.”

Some made comparisons to how other politicians respond to demonstrators. 

Jess Phillips, a Labour lawmaker, said, “Very recently I faced hostile protesters, I was filmed, you may recall, I didn’t grab anyone by the neck.”

Others came to Field’s defense, saying the situation was confusing and it was impossible to know in a split second whether the protester was a threat. 

Tom Sleigh, a councilor who was at the dinner, said he was “uncomfortable with the baying for Mark Field’s blood” online Friday. He said there hadn’t been a metal detector at the entrance and that could have flashed through people’s minds in the moment.

“I was there. I remember being worried and confused when protesters crashed a room full of guests & senior politicians. But most of us would have remembered that people try to kill MPs,” he tweeted.

In 2016, Labour lawmaker Jo Cox died after being shot and stabbed outside a library following a meeting with her constituents.

But climate change demonstrations in Britain have been peaceful, if disruptive. British schoolchildren have joined students around the world in skipping classes to take part in street protests. The group Extinction Rebellion has staged several high-profile demonstrations, including some that blocked roads into central London.

Peter Bottomley, a Conservative lawmaker, told the BBC that Field “did what any sensible person would have done to diffuse what could have been a tragic situation.”

Johnny Mercer, a Conservative lawmaker and former soldier, tweeted: “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. Calm down, move on, and be thankful this wasn’t worse.”

Greenpeace UK tweeted, “Instead of assaulting peaceful women protesters, @MarkFieldUK would be better off spending his time tackling the #ClimateEmergency.”



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