Bodyguards for MPs as extremism threat rises

Pro-Palestinian protesters gather outside Parliament during a debate on Gaza last week
Pro-Palestinian protesters gather outside Parliament during a debate on Gaza last week - Tolga Akmen/Shutterstock

Private security is being deployed to protect MPs amid warnings that the Israel-Hamas conflict is a “generational radicalising moment”, The Telegraph can reveal.

Security personnel working for private firms are guarding constituency surgeries and providing close protection for a growing number of politicians who are assessed to be at risk by the authorities.

One MP who has accepted Parliament-funded protection at constituency meetings warned that “people are underestimating” the threat to politicians from extremists.

Some female MPs are also now using chauffeur-driven cars as part of a move to “close the gap” between protection given to Cabinet ministers as standard and measures for backbenchers now also considered highly vulnerable.

The number of MPs requiring protection is believed to have risen in the wake of the Hamas attacks of Oct 7, with security details assigned under a system first created after the murder of Sir David Amess by an Isis supporter in October 2021.

Because of the scale of the threat since early October, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, the Commons Speaker, is understood to have written to the Prime Minister and the Chancellor to seek more funding for the scheme.

Tom Tugendhat, the security minister, told The Telegraph: “We’ve been reviewing existing security measures for MPs in the wake of the murder of my colleague and friend Sir David Amess.

“The work we’ve done has led to substantive improvements to existing security measures at MPs’ homes and offices, as well as new security measures such as the deployment of private protection officers.”

On Saturday night, Rishi Sunak warned that Parliament had sent a “very dangerous signal” that “intimidation works” when Sir Lindsay broke with precedent to allow Labour to table a vote during an SNP debate. Mr Sunak said legitimate protests were being “hijacked by extremists to promote and glorify terrorism”.

Sir Lindsay apologised for his move last week, saying he had been motivated by a desire to protect MPs. The Telegraph understands he had held talks with Laurence Taylor, the Metropolitan Police deputy assistant commissioner, shortly before the debate.

Separately, a senior counter-terror officer who leads the Prevent programme revealed in an exclusive interview that the number of suspected extremists flagged had risen by 13 per cent since Oct 7, with the figures increasing around news of Israeli hostages and pro-Palestine protests.

“We have always seen the impact of world events closer to home, and our concern is that this will create a long-term increase in risk in the UK and beyond,” Maria Lovegrove, Detective Chief Superintendent, told The Telegraph.

“We are trying to flatten the curve before it becomes a generational radicalising moment.”

Ms Lovegrove said “different communities” were being referred to police, including Islamists and extreme Right-wing groups attempting to “mobilise around a divisive narrative”.

Maria Lovegrove
Maria Lovegrove said the number of suspected extremists flagged had risen by 13 per cent since the Oct 7 Hamas attacks - Paul Grover for The Telegraph

Mr Sunak said: “The events of recent weeks are but the latest in an emerging pattern, which should not be tolerated.

“Legitimate protests hijacked by extremists to promote and glorify terrorism, elected representatives verbally threatened and physically, violently targeted, and anti-Semitic tropes beamed onto our own Parliament building.

“And in Parliament this week, a very dangerous signal was sent that this sort of intimidation works. It is toxic for our society and our politics, and is an affront to the liberties and values we hold dear here in Britain.

“Our democracy cannot and must not bend to the threat of violence and intimidation or fall into polarised camps who hate each other. The explosions in prejudice and anti-Semitism since the Hamas terrorist attacks on the Oct 7 are as unacceptable as they are un-British.

“Simply put, anti-Semitism is racism – and speaking as someone who has experienced racism, I know it when I see it.”

Anna Firth, Sir David’s successor as the Conservative MP for Southend West, said too little was being done to tackle extremism in the country at large.

Writing for The Telegraph, she said: “A lot of lovely sentiments have been expressed ... but has enough actually been done to tackle the fact that many, many Islamist extremists with bad intentions live and walk among us? No, it hasn’t. We seem afraid.”

The Home Office, police, parliamentary authorities and security services have been intensifying work to ensure security for MPs in recent months, building on procedures triggered by the murder of Sir David.

As well as installing security measures at MPs’ homes and constituency offices, and the deployment of uniformed police officers at key events, private security operatives have been assigned for guard duties and close protection where intelligence suggests there is a significant risk.

Thousands of MPs’ surgeries and hundreds of events have been protected since the scheme began, and that number is rising as tensions over the Israel-Hamas war increase threats towards MPs.

Hundreds of MPs have also been provided with an overhauled package of security training from specialist advisers.

A specialist police operation, codenamed Bridger, was separately established to safeguard politicians after a neo-Nazi murdered the Labour MP Jo Cox in 2016. It has held personal security briefings for MPs, while looking at protective measures around Parliament.

Deputy assistant commissioner Taylor said: “We fully recognise and understand the heightened concerns that many MPs and other elected officials across the country have about their safety and security.

“We are committed to ensuring that MPs, their families and their staff can go about their work and lives without feeling unsafe, and we will not tolerate MPs being intimidated.”

On Friday, a teenager was convicted of trying to encourage terror attacks targeting the Government by creating a manual filled with instructions on how to build bombs, guns and evade the police.

Prosecutors told Manchester Crown Court the teenager “was motivated by a hatred and contempt for the Government.”

Brendan Cox, Ms Cox’s widower, told The Telegraph: “Tensions over the war in Gaza risk undermining community relations and catalysing anti-Semitic and Islamophobic extremism. What we urgently need now is politicians who can bring communities together, bridge divides and marginalise these extremists.”

A vicious political row was sparked by a Commons debate on a Gaza ceasefire on Wednesday, with more than 70 MPs later backing a no-confidence motion in Sir Lindsay.

The Speaker said he “made a wrong decision” because he was trying to protect MPs against repercussions, adding: “The details of the things that have been brought to me are absolutely frightening… I have a duty of care that I will carry out to protect people.”

MI5 continues to assess Islamists as the most significant terror threat to the UK, but they made up only 11 per cent of referrals to Prevent in 2022-23, behind “conflicted ideology”, Right-wing extremists and a group classed as “vulnerability present but no ideology or counter-terrorism risk”.

Ms Lovegrove said the scheme could only “deal with the work as it comes to us”, and that there was “no difference in the way we triage and assess different types of referrals”.

An official review of Prevent argued that it had strayed from its “core mission” to counter Islamism and other ideologies that drive terrorism, and had instead become too focused on ideas of “vulnerability”.

Ms Lovegrove argued the two factors could not be “divorced”, adding: “We now see people that are both vulnerable and dangerous at the same time. More and more, we’re seeing cases where ideology is the last thing to come.”

The chaotic picture is partly being driven by the young age of many people referred to Prevent, which is now seeing children under the age of 10 referred for “ideological intervention”.

Ms Lovegrove said “it would be really naive to not think that there was a risk of very young people being drawn into terrorism, particularly with the way algorithms now chuck content at children”.