Keir Starmer Confronted by Mob of Anti-Vaxxers in London

Starmer was bundled into a police car after being accosted at a protest inspired by Canada’s anti-vax convoy. Some repeated a false claim recently spread by Boris Johnson that he had failed to prosecute a notorious paedophile.
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Keir Starmer pictured in Westminster in 2019. Photo: File/Jack Taylor/Getty Images

UK Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer had to be bundled into a police car for his own safety on Monday after being surrounded by a mob of anti-lockdown protesters who were trying to replicate Canada’s so-called “freedom convoy” in central London.

The anti-vax, anti-lockdown protest in central London was the culmination of a “UK convoy” movement that had seen protesters converge on London from across the country over the weekend, inspired by the volatile protests that have seen a state of emergency declared in Ottawa, Canada’s capital.

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Footage on social media on Monday evening showed Starmer, flanked by Shadow Foreign Secretary David Lammy and surrounded by a number of police officers, being swarmed by an increasingly angry mob of protesters as he walked on the footpath near Parliament.

Members of the crowd repeatedly shouted “Traitor!” at him, while one voice could be heard yelling about paedophiles. 

VICE World News has previously reported how Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s false claim in the House of Commons that Starmer had failed to prosecute notorious paedophile Jimmy Savile when Starmer led the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) was being shared widely in far-right Telegram groups.

Another member of the crowd challenged him with references to “Magna Carta” and “common law,” key talking points for the sovereign citizen conspiracy theory that has become a key strand of the UK’s anti-lockdown movement.

“Why have your policies allowed our Magna Carta, our rights, our common law to be ignored?” the man yelled. Another protester could be seen wearing a Canadian maple leaf hat, a visual reference to the Canadian “freedom convoy” protests that have been adopted by the British protesters.

Inspired by Canada’s so-called “freedom convoy” that has shut down central Ottawa, anti-vax and anti-lockdown protesters had vowed to “occupy central London” on Monday, calling on protesters to turn out in their trucks, tractors – even tanks.

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The situation on the ground prior to the confrontation with Starmer had been relatively sedate, a sharp contrast to the volatile scenes that have led to a state of emergency being declared in the Canadian capital.

“Underwhelming,” was the verdict earlier in the day from Ciaran O’Connor, an analyst at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue who monitors COVID misinformation. “Very much a non-event,” said Joe Ondrak, the head of investigation for Logically, a tech company that combats online disinformation.

Police and researchers wouldn’t estimate the size of the turnout, but livestreams of the event showed small, scattered groups of protesters, rather than the “takeover” of the capital that was promised. O’Connor said the protest appeared to be “small, and made up of vans or campervans, as opposed to trucks.” The impact of the various convoys as protesters converged on London from different ends of the UK over the weekend was “even smaller.”

Even online cheerleaders of the protest sounded disappointed by the turnout and its impact, despite organisers claiming on a website coordinating the protest that 1,400 cars and 6,000 people had descended on London.

“Saw three or four moving vehicles and five or six parked. Very few people there,” wrote one attendee on Telegram. “Convoy it was not.”

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“Have been here for the past hour and only seen one truck,” wrote another. “Where is everybody?! Does anybody know where the convoy is?”

“No one’s hardly gonna even know about this convoy,” complained another supporter on Telegram, while others mused that the lack of mainstream media coverage was due to an orchestrated blackout of the event.

The UK convoy was one of several foreign spinoff protests inspired by Canada’s “freedom convoy” that have emerged from the global anti-lockdown “freedom movement,” which is heavily influenced by COVID conspiracies and misinformation.

The Canadian protest, launched in reaction to a new rule introduced last month that truckers had to be vaccinated to cross the US-Canada border, has created major disruption in the Canadian capital and generated international headlines.

In turn, that has inspired a “Convoy to Canberra” rally, that held anti-vaccine mandate protests near Australia’s parliament last week, while a similar “freedom convoy” is currently converging on the New Zealand capital from two directions, ahead of a planned rally against vaccine mandates and lockdown restrictions on Tuesday.

Meanwhile in the US, anti-lockdown activists have begun organising their own convoy to descend on Washington.

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Ondrak said the copycat rallies showed how rapidly the highly networked and interconnected global “freedom movement” shared ideas and inspiration across borders – but also how the impact of such movements could become diluted as they spread.

“The original Canadian protest was centred around a specific mandate for a specific industry, whereas the attempts to replicate it are simply harnessing a general anti-COVID-vax or ‘freedom movement’ sense of injustice and anger,” he said.  

The Canadian protest, while ostensibly mobilising over the vaccine mandate for cross-border truckers, was swiftly co-opted by bad actors, including far-right groups and QAnon conspiracists, and has been condemned by trucking industry groups.

The website coordinating the UK convoy – as well as pledging to “Make Britain Great Again” – stated protesters were “calling for an end to all COVID-19 restrictions, vaccine mandates and vaccine passports in the UK, and in support of the same for other countries.” But restrictions across the UK have already been largely relaxed, with only a few remaining in England, such as the requirement to self-isolate once symptoms develop, show an official COVID pass in certain venues if requested, and wear face coverings in healthcare environments. The UK government even reversed its plan to require healthcare workers to be vaccinated last week.

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O’Connor said that from his monitoring of livestreams from the London protest, it appeared “conspiracies and misinformation were central to the movement.” These included debunked or unverified claims, such as that only 17,000 people have died from COVID in the UK (according to the Office for National Statistics, the real figure is more than 140,000).

READ: Anti-vaxxers are staking everything on a police investigation that doesn’t exist

He said multiple people claimed their online communications have been deliberately “scrambled” by the authorities to thwart the protest. Others made reference to the so-called “6029679/21” case – a police crime reference number that anti-vaxxers are claiming is linked to a wide-ranging police investigation into the criminality of the COVID vaccine programme, and have been citing in their attempts to forcibly shut down vaccination clinics

In fact, the number refers merely to the fact that activists have lodged a complaint, and police have repeatedly clarified that no investigation has been launched.