Sunak decries ‘intimidation’ by protesters amid row over chaotic Gaza vote

Rishi Sunak has hit out at the behaviour of protesters who he says are threatening MPs, after warnings that politicians’ safety was put at risk during this week’s chaotic parliamentary debate on Gaza.

The prime minister said on Friday it was “unacceptable” for MPs to feel intimidated in their jobs, amid a row over whether the Commons speaker was right to bend parliamentary rules this week in an effort to protect MPs’ safety.

Sunak told reporters during a tour of north Wales: “It’s simply unacceptable for intimidation or aggressive behaviour to threaten our parliamentary democracy and our freedom of expression.

“Some of the scenes we’ve been seeing in recent months, particularly antisemitic behaviour, are appalling and unacceptable.”

His words were echoed by James Cleverly, the home secretary, who told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “If you can’t make your arguments in a way that means you win a majority at an election, then it is not appropriate for you to try and force your opinion through intimidatory actions in people’s places of work.”

Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, agreed, saying: “It’s a disgrace to have protests that target MPs’ homes and also councillors’ homes as well. It affects people’s families. It’s a deliberate attempt at intimidation.”

The comments follow a protracted row over whether Lindsay Hoyle, the Commons speaker, was right to ignore precedent on Wednesday and allow a vote on a Labour amendment calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.

Hoyle said on Thursday he had acted because of concerns from MPs that their safety would be put at risk if they were not allowed to record their vote for a ceasefire but only under certain conditions.

Conservative and Scottish National party MPs have complained about Hoyle’s actions, which also averted a major rebellion on the Labour benches. The move reignited a debate about MPs’ safety, with several politicians saying they had been intimidated by pro-Palestinian protesters since a similar vote in November.

Some MPs have sought police protection since that vote, while others now carry panic alarms and have sought to have their home addresses removed from the internet.

The government commissioned a report by Lord Walney into political violence. The crossbench peer submitted his review in December.

Cleverly told Sky News it would say: “There is also an absolute requirement to make sure that we defend democracy [and] that people who make decisions in government at whatever level are doing so based on their judgment, based on the information, based on their beliefs, not based on fear of reprisals.”

However, the home secretary rejected the idea that the police needed new powers to monitor protests, adding: “We want [officers] to understand that they have our back and when they use those powers.”

Cleverly also hit back at controversial comments by his predecessor, Suella Braverman, who wrote in the Telegraph on Friday: “The Islamists, the extremists and the antisemites are in charge now.”

The home secretary told Times Radio: “We have a high-functioning democracy. We live by the rule of law. And I don’t think it is right or appropriate to imply anything other than that.”

The comments add to a continuing debate over what form of political protest are valid.

On Thursday, the Labour MP Stella Creasy complained about an article in the Guardian in which Sarah Lunnon, the co-founder of Just Stop Oil, justified targeting MPs. In December, Just Stop Oil activists sang protest Christmas carols outside Keir Starmer’s house, while Greenpeace protesters occupied the roof of Rishi Sunak’s home in North Yorkshire last summer when he was away on holiday.

Creasy warned that politics was “drowning in hate and violence”, adding: “Climate protesters picketing MPs’ houses is no more acceptable than the threats I have received from anti-abortion campaigners.”

Lunnon responded on Friday, telling the BBC she felt her safety was being put at risk because of the climate crisis.