UK boosts MPs' security amid Gaza war fears

AFP , Wednesday 28 Feb 2024

The UK government announced a multi-million-pound package Wednesday to boost the security of elected lawmakers who say they face increasing threats amid tensions over the Israeli war on Gaza.

gaza
Britain s Prime Minister Rishi Sunak attending the weekly session of Prime Minister s Questions (PMQs) in the House of Commons, in central London on February 21, 2024. AFP

 

The £31 million ($39 million) in extra funding over the next year follows British MPs being targeted with intense criticism and abuse over their stances on the Middle East conflict.

It also comes during a febrile, pre-election atmosphere, with a nationwide vote due later this year and expected to result in a change of government from Conservative to Labour.

Under the new provisions, lawmakers will have access to a dedicated police contact to discuss security while those most at risk could seek bodyguards, the interior ministry said.

The money will also expand cybersecurity advice to MPs and increase police patrols in areas witnessing heightened community tensions, it added.

"None of us should have to accept that enduring hate crimes, harassment, or threats is part of the job," Interior Minister James Cleverly said in a statement.

British MPs have expressed growing concerns about their safety following a surge in anti-Semitic and Islamophobic incidents since the conflict in Gaza broke out on October 7.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said they had been "verbally threatened and physically, violently targeted", with "legitimate protests hijacked by extremists".

 'Stay away' 

Conservative MP Mike Freer, who represents a largely Jewish area, is not seeking re-election because of a spate of threats and an arson attack on his office.

Earlier this month, fellow Tory Tobias Ellwood said 80 pro-Palestinian protesters had gathered outside his home, with police warning his family to "stay away" to avoid antagonising the crowd.

Last week, Commons speaker Lindsay Hoyle cited threats to lawmakers as a reason for his controversial handling of a debate about calls for a ceasefire in Gaza.

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign said the issue of lawmakers' security was "serious" but should not be used to "shield MPs from democratic accountability".

Environmental protesters have also targeted the family homes of Sunak and Labour leader Keir Starmer in recent months.

UK lawmakers have long been wary of their security following the high-profile murders of two MPs in recent years.

MPs have received death threats. Some have taken to wearing stab-proof vests, carrying alarms and hiring bodyguards.

Lawmakers are entitled to extra security at their homes and constituency offices under Operation Bridger, which was established in 2016 following the killing of Labour MP Jo Cox.

Cox was shot and stabbed by a neo-Nazi sympathiser a week before the divisive Brexit referendum.

-'Worse and worse'

In 2021, Conservative MP David Amess died from multiple stab wounds inflicted by an Islamic State group follower.

In 2010, Labour MP Stephen Timms was stabbed and seriously wounded by an Islamist extremist as he met constituents in east London.

Lisa Nandy, Labour's shadow international development spokeswoman, said this week that MPs are receiving threats "on multiple issues in multiple directions".

"Over the 14 years that I've been in Parliament, I've watched this get worse and worse," she told Sky News.

Labour MP Stella Creasy says she, her family, and her staff have all been abused online and offline. A brick has been hurled at her office window.

"Public life is drowning in hate, and violence and harassment towards political representatives is increasingly being normalised," she wrote in The Guardian last week.

On Monday, Labour MP Dawn Butter told the chamber that she had been forced to seek extra police support after suffering "far-right abuse".

She blamed right-wingers in the Conservative party for peddling "racist, Islamophobic, anti-Muslim hate".

The Tories suspended their former deputy chairman Lee Anderson at the weekend after he refused to apologise for saying London's Labour mayor Sadiq Khan was controlled by Islamists.

Firebrand ex-interior minister Suella Braverman has claimed that "Islamists, the extremists and the anti-Semites are in charge now" of the UK.

Sunak has urged politicians to tone down the rhetoric.

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