Jacob Rees-Mogg: I did not fear violence from protesters
Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg has told a parliamentary committee he did not fear violence when he was confronted by masked protesters at a university meeting.
The North-East Somerset MP made clear he was not bothered by being heckled at the event at the University of the West of England in Bristol, but described the use of masks as "sinister" and said he was concerned that MPs should not feel they need security when appearing in public.
The arch-Brexiteer was giving evidence to a hearing of Parliament's Joint Human Rights Committee, which is carrying out an inquiry into freedom of speech in universities.
A video of Mr Rees-Mogg intervening to stop a scuffle at the event last week was widely shared on social media.
But he told the committee that the images made the disruption to his speech caused by a group of around six shouting people appear "much more dramatic than it was".
"They don't want me to be heard, that's the point of their protest," he said.
"I think a protest of that kind is perfectly legitimate. I think that as a politician, you should expect that people may come and heckle.
"People coming along and shouting at you, people heckling, is part of political life and to be honest as a politician a bit of heckling can make your speech.
"But masks is a little bit sinister."
Mr Rees-Mogg said he walked up to the protesters and tried to talk with them but they "didn't want to engage".
At this point, a member of the audience tried to persuade them to leave, and the protesters claimed that he had hit a female member of their group.
"It looked as though two people were going to hit each other, which I obviously wanted to avoid, so I stood between them because I knew that they weren't going to hit me," he said.
"The people who were there to hear me were very unlikely to want to hit me and the protesters had given no indication that they wanted to be violent until they said this lady had been hit."
Mr Rees-Mogg said he was "much more concerned" about the impact of online threats and abuse directed particularly at female politicians, which he condemned as "deeply unpleasant and very risky for who will represent us in future".
He added: "I think it would be a shame if MPs felt they had to go along with security or always had to be accompanied, because part of the strength of our political system is that MPs are part of the ordinary population.
"Absolutely, some of the highest officeholders of state have to have protection for very good reasons, but it would be really sad if backbench MPs felt that to be necessary because how else do we know what is going on in the country if we are always behind some protective cordon?"