Advertisement

Mike Freer quits: Rishi Sunak 'extremely saddened' and blasts 'vitriolic hatred' targeted at London MP

Conservative MP Mike Freer said there is a history of attacks on him and his office (PA Archive)
Conservative MP Mike Freer said there is a history of attacks on him and his office (PA Archive)

Rishi Sunak is "extremely saddened" that London MP Mike Freer is stepping down at the next election, the PM's spokesman said on Thursday, after multiple threats to the justice minister including an arson attack on his constituency office.

The Conservative MP for Finchley and Golders Green said that "by the skin of my teeth I avoided being murdered" by Ali Harbi Ali, who went on to kill Southend West MP Sir David Amess.

Allies and opponents alike praised Mr Freer and appealed for moderation in political discourse after the 63-year-old politician, a staunch ally of Israel whose constituency contains a large Jewish population, was subjected to venomous attacks on social media as well as death threats.

“The Prime Minister is extremely saddened that Minister Freer has faced such vitriolic hatred that he feels he's no longer able to serve his local community," Mr Sunak's spokesman told reporters.

“The Prime Minister believes that serving and representing your community is a unique privilege and making a difference to people's lives is the most rewarding job you can do," he said.

“No elected representative deserves to be abused or intimidated, and the attacks and abuse that Mike Freer references are clearly deeply distressing. They're not just an attack on him, but an attack on British democracy.”

Existing protections for MPs are kept under review but are “robust”, the spokesman added.

Mr Freer confirmed to the Standard his reasons for stepping down outlined in an interview with the Daily Mail. "There comes a point when the threats to your personal safety become too much," he said.In a message on social media, the MP for Finchley and Golders Green said: "Since my election as MP in 2010 I have sadly had several serious threats to my personal safety."

The former Finchley councillor, who also led Barnet Council, was first targeted in 2011 - a year after east London Labour MP Stephen Timms was stabbed.

A group called Muslims Against Crusades told him to "let Stephen Timms be a warning" before several of its supporters gatecrashed an event he was attending at the North Finchley Mosque.

In a letter to his local Conservative association, Mr Freer wrote that it "will be an enormous wrench to step down", but that the attacks "have weighed heavily on me and my husband, Angelo".

The MP and his staff have decided to wear stab vests when attending scheduled public events in his constituency after learning that Ali had watched his Finchley office before going on to stab Sir David to death during a constituency surgery in 2021.

Mr Freer told the Daily Mail: "I was very lucky that actually on the day I was due to be in Finchley, I happened to change my plans and came into Whitehall.

"Otherwise who knows whether I would have been attacked or survived an attack. He said he came to Finchley to attack me."

He said MPs tend to try to "make light" of threats, but that it remained at the back of his mind that he could have been killed.

Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle also said he was “saddened”. Speaking on ITV’s Good Morning Britain programme, he said: “We all get death threats, but Mike really has been targeted.

"Politicians want to do the right thing by their constituents, by the country, but we have others who all the time are trying to stop people carrying out the job they were elected to do. It is not acceptable," Sir Lindsay added.

“I will do whatever I can as Speaker, working with the security, working with the police, working with ministers, to ensure that members are safe, their families are safe, their offices safe.

“But that is the big challenge at the moment. It really is a threat.”

Chief Secretary to the Treasury Laura Trott said: "It's incredibly sad. Mike Freer is a brilliant minister and a great man and he's made a huge contribution to British life.

"And the fact that he feels that he cannot stand as an MP at the next election because of the intimidation that he's been part of is frankly, unacceptable," she said on GB News.

Mr Freer said he had also received threats from the group Muslims Against Crusades "about coming to stab me" and found "mock Molotov cocktails on the office steps".

The arson attack on his north London constituency office in December was "the final straw," he said, adding that "I don't think we can divorce" antisemitism from the intimidation.

He won his seat by 6,562 votes at the last General Election in 2019, seeing off a Liberal Democrat challenger after Labour was beset by antisemitism rows under Jeremy Corbyn.

Mr Freer joins a series of MPs who have announced their intention not to contest the next election, which is expected later this year, and his own constituency is threatened by a possible Labour tidal wave.

Labour's candidate in Finchley and Golders Green, Sarah Sackman, said she was "shocked" by the news, adding: "We should have been able to face each other in the polls based on our ideas and merits.

"Instead, politics is now so often skewed by violent language, hate and the dangers of social media."

Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle also said he was “saddened”.

Speaking on ITV’s Good Morning Britain programme, he said: “We all get death threats, but Mike really has been targeted.

"Politicians want to do the right thing by their constituents, by the country, but we have others who all the time are trying to stop people carrying out the job they were elected to do. It is not acceptable," Sir Lindsay added.

“I will do whatever I can as Speaker, working with the security, working with the police, working with ministers, to ensure that members are safe, their families are safe, their offices safe.

“But that is the big challenge at the moment. It really is a threat.”

Tory former minister Sir Conor Burns tweeted: "Totally understandable decision. The drip drip of hate (not exclusively from people on the other side) and remorseless cynicism will drive more people out of politics."