ACTIONS of a furious man who hurled a hot cup of coffee at a councillor after an argument over Brexit have been condemned by politicians who blamed the ‘toxic’ atmosphere in Westminster.
Liberal Democrat councillor Lee Hunt was campaigning in Palmerston Road on Saturday when he approached by a member of the public at a stop Brexit stall.
Veteran politician Cllr Hunt said he was left ‘shocked and shaken’ by the attack which resulted in his clothes and phone being covered in coffee.
It comes after MPs in parliament warned about the use of potentially incendiary language during debates - including the ‘viciousness’ of words by prime minister Boris Johnson. Backers accuse his opponents of using similar language.
Cllr Hunt, whose party backs remain, told The News: ‘The man got very aggressive – he literally exploded in front of me. I asked him to go away and he hurled a hot cup of coffee across the table at me. He was shouting and swearing and telling me to “make him go away”.’
After initially walking away, former police officer Cllr Hunt said the man returned to the scene and continued to use threatening behaviour, even placing his hand on his head.
‘He was a large man and was quite intimidating,’ said Cllr Hunt.
The situation had erupted after Cllr Hunt had become engaged in a heated discussion with the man who was asked to place his position on the Brexitometer – a campaign chart to gauge public opinion.
The attack has been condemned by local political figures from the main parties.
Conservative Portsmouth North MP, Penny Mordaunt, said: ‘I do understand how angry people are. Many are dismayed that the referendum result hasn’t been delivered but that disappointment can never justify intimidation and assault.’
She added: ‘The vast majority of the public have accepted the result of the referendum must be delivered, no matter which way they voted themselves – that is the trust and faith they have in our democracy and that is why we cannot let them down.’
Lib Dem councillor Ben Dowling said: ‘I completely condemn what happened to Lee.
‘Everyone has the right to campaign for what they believe in without fear of assault.’
Lib Dem council leader, Gerald Vernon-Jackson, believes the incident has been influenced by what has been taking place in parliament last week with Speaker John Bercow calling for an end to ‘toxic’ language being used. Cllr Vernon-Jackson, described the ferocity of the Brexit debate as the ‘worst I have known in 22 years’.
He added: ‘There seems to be a deliberate plan to whip up the public for political gain. I’m particularly concerned by the level of viciousness of words the prime minister has used which I think is reflected in incidents like the one we saw in Southsea.’
Labour Portsmouth South MP, Stephen Morgan, has also called for greater consideration in language used.
Mr Morgan said: ‘We find ourselves in troubling times where inflammatory words such as betrayal and surrender have become commonplace in debate. The significance of this cannot be underestimated.
‘It is up to all of us to engage with each other in a respectful manner.’
Cllr Hunt has vowed the incident will not stop him campaigning for what he believes in.
‘This incident won’t stop me, nor do I hope it stops anyone else from campaigning for what they believe in,’ the Nelson ward representative said.
Police have confirmed they received a report of an assault on a man on Palmerston Road and that enquiries are ongoing.