Rishi Sunak: Police must stop ‘intimidatory’ protests against MPs as threat level rises

Pro-Palestine protests
Pro-Palestine protests have raised tempers and MPs may be at risk of 'intimidation' - Guy Smallman/getty

Rishi Sunak has warned police chiefs that “mob rule is replacing democratic rule” as he demanded they shut down “intimidatory” protests against MPs amid an increase in threats sparked by the Gaza conflict.

Speaking after a meeting at No 10 with police chiefs to discuss threats to MPs, the Prime Minister said they must make full use of their powers to protect politicians from threatening protests or risk losing public confidence in them.

He announced a new “democratic policing protocol” agreed with police chiefs that commits them to removing protesters from outside politicians’ homes, an increase in weekly patrols to tackle potential flashpoints in their communities and a minimum standard of police response to intimidation of MPs.

‘Growing consensus’

Mr Sunak said: “There is a growing consensus that mob rule is replacing democratic rule. And we’ve got to collectively, all of us, change that urgently.

“We simply cannot allow this pattern of increasingly violent and intimidatory behaviour which is, as far as anyone can see, intended to shout down free debate and stop elected representatives doing their job. That is simply undemocratic.”

He said it was right that the protocol committed to extra patrols and provided “clarity” by stating that protests at the homes of MPs, councillors and other elected representatives should be “generally considered to be intimidatory”.

Rishi Sunak warned of MPs being at risk over 'mob rule' of protesters - James Veysey/Shutterstock

He added: “But we also need to demonstrate more broadly to the public that you will use the powers you already have, the laws that you have.

“I am going to do whatever it requires to protect our democracy and our values that we all hold dear.

“That is what the public expects. It is fundamental to our democratic system. And also it is vital for maintaining public confidence in the police.”

It came as Mr Sunak on Wednesday night pledged a record £72m over four years to the Jewish Community Security Trust (CST) to protect against anti-Semitism.

Jewish schools, synagogues and other community centres will benefit from measures such as security guards, CCTV and alarm systems.

Speaking at the CST’s annual dinner, Mr Sunak said that the rise in racist attacks meant that “the whole fabric of our nation is under threat”.

The October 7 attack has been followed by “record levels of anti-Semitism in this country that are utterly, utterly sickening,” he said.

“It is hatred, pure and simple. An assault on the Jewish people.”

He pledged: “We will fight this anti-Semitism with everything we’ve got.”

‘Minimum standards’

The prime minister’s seven-point policing protocol, backed by an extra £31 million in government funding, sets out “minimum standards” for forces to ensure any events involving any MPs or candidates in the run-up to the general election get an “appropriate police response”.

It states that police forces have “adequate powers” under section 42 of the Criminal Justice Act of 2001 to direct protesters away from MPs’ homes on the basis that such demonstrations are “intimidatory”.

Protests at politicians’ offices, Parliament or town halls should not be allowed to “prevent or inhibit” the use of the venue or attendance at the event, or to cause alarm, harassment or distress to those participating.

Policing in spotlight
Rishi Sunak has agreed a new 'democratic policing protocol' - Andy Rain/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

It is understood Mr Sunak was seeking up to 80 extra patrols a week in areas with high community tensions which would include deployments to MPs’ homes and at their constituency offices.

However, this is not specified in the protocol after police chiefs demanded more discretion on precise numbers.

The College of Policing, which is responsible for police standards of practice, will issue guidance on policing of “democratic events” including MPs’ surgeries, fundraisers and protests, including in Parliament Square to ensure that officers know their powers.

Police chiefs have also committed to providing a dedicated named contact to liaise with all elected representatives and candidates and advise on security matters.

Police chiefs will be held to account on how they deal with protests and “democratic events” in the next round of inspections by the official police watchdog, His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services.

Chris Philp, the policing minister, said protesters could be required to give more notice to police before being able to stage a demonstration to ease the pressures on resources.

He suggested it could be a couple of weeks’ notice for big 100,000-plus demonstrations rather than the current six days to give police time to prepare.

He said the proposal – first proposed by the home affairs committee of MPs – was being studied by the Home Office amid growing concerns at the “unsustainable” cost of the weekly pro-Palestinian protests over the Gaza conflict.