Extra MPs’ security cash fails to address root cause of problem, minister says

Extra MPs’ security cash fails to address root cause of problem, minister says

A £31 million package to boost security measures for politicians “misses the point”, a Government minister who is standing down over safety fears said.

The extra funding announced by Home Secretary James Cleverly follows fears about MPs being targeted and intimidated by demonstrators in recent months, with tensions heightened by protests around the Israel-Hamas conflict in Gaza.

But justice minister Mike Freer, who is not standing at the general election because of threats to his safety, said the extra cash is “not actually going to the root cause” of the problem of why people felt emboldened to target MPs.

The new security package will enhance police protection and help fund private security guards for those facing a higher risk.

It will ensure all elected representatives and candidates have a dedicated named police contact to liaise with on security matters.

Mr Cleverly was expected to discuss the issues around MPs’ safety with police chiefs on Wednesday.

He said no MP should have to accept that threats or harassment is “part of the job”.

But Mr Freer, who has pro-Israel views and represents a heavily Jewish constituency in Finchley and Golders Green, north London, said the extra funding did not address the underlying problem.

“I kind of think it’s missing the point,” he told Times Radio. “More security is always welcome, but that’s only dealing with the symptom.

“It’s not actually going to the root cause. Why do people now feel emboldened to attack members of Parliament to demonstrate outside their homes where they’re intimidating their family? Not necessarily the MP, but their family.

“Why should their partners and their children have to put up with being frightened in their own home?

“So, security is welcome. But frankly, unless you get to the root cause, then you’re just going to have a ring of steel around MPs. And our whole style of democracy changes.”

Downing Street insisted action had been taken to ensure there was “no place for hatred or extremism” in the UK.

Responding to Mr Freer’s comments, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “We have taken action in the last year to strengthen our Prevent programme, measures to tackle antisemitism and increase the power of all local authorities in England and Wales to tackle terrorist ideologies.

“But it is unfortunately still sadly necessary that alongside these preventative measures, we protect people and our democratic institutions against hatred, threats and intimidation.”

Labour’s shadow attorney general Emily Thornberry said protests outside MPs’ homes and offices “has to stop”.

“It is very important that people are able to demonstrate on this extraordinarily important issue (Gaza) and they must be allowed to express themselves,” she told BBC Radio 4’s World At One programme.

“But that should not be expressing themselves in such a way that it is intentionally meant to intimidate politicians. That is not right.”

Conservative backbencher Tobias Ellwood’s home was targeted earlier this month by pro-Palestine protesters.

The family homes of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer have also been set upon by environmental activists in past months.

On Wednesday, policing minister Chris Philp said four people had been arrested after a political party fundraising event in Stoke was disrupted by protesters last week, forcing it to be closed down.

General Election 2019
Conservative Mike Freer is standing down at the election over safety concerns (Jacob King/PA)

Announcing the new funding, Mr Cleverly said: “The Government will take every possible step to safeguard the people, processes and institutions upon which our democracy relies.

“I take the safety and security of all members of the House with the utmost seriousness.

“None of us should have to accept that enduring hate crimes, harassment, or threats is part of the job.

“I will continue to work closely with my police counterparts to provide elected representatives with the support they need.”

The Home Office announcement includes the establishment of a communities fund to support the deployment of additional police patrols each week in England and Wales to help deal with “increased community tensions”, the Home Office said.

Rishi Sunak home
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s constituency home was targeted by environmental protesters last year (Danny Lawson/PA)

It is designed to increase support available to vulnerable communities, increase police visibility and boost public confidence, the department added.

Two serving MPs — Labour’s Jo Cox and Conservative Sir David Amess — have been murdered in the past eight years, with reforms to the security of parliamentarians having been introduced as a result of those killings.

Changes have included improvements to existing security measures at MPs’ homes and offices, and bringing in additional private sector-delivered protective security where necessary.

Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle welcomed the new funding, saying it was “a significant step forward” that provided “much-needed reassurance for everyone involved in the democratic process”.

He said: “It will enable us to build on the improvements we have made over the past two years, working with the police and Home Office to enhance security at MPs’ homes and offices, and crucially when they are out and about meeting their constituents.”

On Tuesday, Mr Sunak rejected a suggestion from veteran Labour MP Harriet Harman that MPs should be able to speak and vote from their constituencies because of concerns about security at Westminster.

Israel-Hamas conflict
The Israel-Hamas conflict has sparked months of protests across the UK, including outside Parliament (Lucy North/PA)

Downing Street said the Prime Minister believed it was “really important that we maintain Parliament as a place for free debate and expression of views”.

The comments by Ms Harman came after the chaotic scenes in Westminster last week over the vote on a ceasefire in Gaza.

Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay broke with precedent in his handling of the proceedings because he had concerns about the intimidation suffered by some parliamentarians and wanted to give MPs the widest possible range of options for the vote.

But the backlash to his actions, which spared Sir Keir Starmer from the prospect of a damaging revolt by MPs demanding a ceasefire, has left his own position in jeopardy, with 92 MPs now signed up to a motion of no confidence.