Fear stalks Westminster as threats to MPs take a toll at work and home

Israel-Gaza conflict has stoked tensions in Britain with politicians needing £31 million security upgrade

Police outside the Houses of Parliament on Wednesday. Three female MPs now have bodyguards after they received serious threats. EPA
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For David Jones, being a visible presence in your constituency is as much a part of an MP's job as playing your part on the benches of the House of Commons.

But the former Welsh secretary fears that combining those two facets of life in the febrile atmosphere enveloping Britain's politicians is becoming impossible, or at the very least unsafe.

“It's deeply worrying,” he told The National. “MPs are encouraged to be part of their own community, to be seen out and about, talking to people to understand the concerns of those you're representing. But we’ve arrived at the point where because of the actions of a very few individuals, MPs don't feel safe.”

His views were echoed by a number of politicians The National spoke to after the government announced a further £31 million ($40 million) for politicians’ protection as concerns grow over their safety.

The mood among all parties was grim in Westminster on Wednesday with a palpable nervousness evident at the dangers that may lay in wait.

Some MPs have been forced to call in police after they felt threatened by protests at their homes or constituency offices.

It was disclosed earlier this week that three British female MPs have been given bodyguards, estimated to cost up to £1,000 ($1,260) a day and chauffeur-driven cars. They are understood to have suffered “severe aggravation” with constant threats against them, The National can disclose.

With fears over British politicians’ personal security growing, fellow MPs said the three had been subjected to “threats to life” as well as warnings that “we will come and get your family”.

The Israel-Gaza war has inflamed an already polarised society with continued mass protests in London and other cities, largely focused on the very high death toll among Palestinians.

A growing number of MPs are now increasingly worried when they leave the parliamentary estate for their London flats and no longer have the protection granted by Westminster's heavily armed police and security measures.

Many feel they are sitting ducks given their public schedules and ease with which their whereabouts can be pinpointed.

Vulnerable women

A female former MP told The National that her anxieties were considerably heightened “the minute you step off the parliamentary estate” and in particular when back in her constituency.

“If you've done a good job, everyone knows what you look like and generally knows where you live, so you feel completely vulnerable,” she said.

She added that for women it was even harder because they frequently attracted “obsessive people” alongside “relentless targeting” of them on social media.

“You and your team are constantly on the alert for when does this tip over into ‘do I need to contact the police?’ territory,” she said.

In particular at MPs' surgeries, where they meet local constituents on Fridays, there is always a fear that “you don’t know if someone’s got a knife on them”. Many now hold surgeries by appointment only.

“It’s really frightening, you sort of get used to it but you're constantly worried about your family,” she added.

Home protests

One veteran Conservative MP said he had received two death threats that were taken seriously by police and led to increased security measures at his home address.

The politician was also a close friend of David Amess, who was stabbed to death by an ISIS-linked extremist while holding a constituency surgery in 2021.

But the shift to a minority of protesters demonstrating directly outside MPs' homes has outraged politicians and led to a further increase in security measures. Last week, up to 80 pro-Palestinian protesters gathered outside the home of Bournemouth East MP Tobias Ellwood with signs that accused him of being "complicit in genocide" in Gaza. A police security programme to protect MPs called Operation Bridger had to be called into action.

Afzal Khan, a senior Labour MP, told The National that he did not “feel at all comfortable” with the home protests.

As a former Manchester police officer for three years he was not personally intimidated by being out in public.

“MPs are entitled to have a secure home that is separate from their public lives. I've chosen to be in public life, but not my family.”

Another MP called the protests “utterly disgraceful” and “organised intimidation”.

But Mr Khan, a Manchester MP, supported the right to public protest and said politicians needed to listen to the protesters because the “tempo is going to go up” regarding the Gaza situation. He has personally received 7,500 emails on the subject.

With society more divided, Mr Khan, former chairman of the Labour Muslim Network, was also much more frequently approached by members of the public to discuss the Middle East. “I don't mind personally, but it does take a toll,” he said.

Deep worries

Throughout a raucous Prime Minister's Questions on Wednesday, the suspended MP Lee Anderson sat among fellow Tories one bench from the front, still unapologetic over his comments that he believed Islamists had control over London and Mayor Sadiq Khan, a Muslim.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak made a direct reference to the case when he told the Commons “when I heard something I didn't agree with, I suspended him right away”.

Mr Anderson, who speculation suggests might defect to the hard-right Reform UK party, appeared to enjoy the attention by pointing to himself three times as Mr Sunak spoke.

But there is some disquiet that Mr Anderson may well have exacerbated the security threat to fellow MPs by his comments, which the Policing Minister Chris Philp said were wrong and for which he should apologise.

Given the back-slaps Mr Anderson received from a handful of Tory MPs, an apology did not appear imminent.

Updated: February 28, 2024, 3:48 PM