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Roving Periscope: Insecure, British MPs feel Gaza War heat; to get extra security

Roving Periscope: Insecure, British MPs feel Gaza War heat; to get extra security

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Virendra Pandit

New Delhi: A century ago, they ruled the world, and their Union Jack reigned the Seven Seas. They were the predominant global power and their word was the law of the planet.

Those were halcyon days of the British Empire…until 1997 when the Crown exited from its last colony, Hong Kong.

The British lawmakers no longer feel safe even in their own country!

Following reports of threats to apparently pro-Israel lawmakers, the British government has decided to enhance security for them, the media reported on Wednesday.

Members of the House of Commons, who are facing threats to their safety, will get extra security, as part of a £31 million package to help protect the United Kingdom’s democratic processes from disruption, the government announced, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) reported.

The government’s fresh measures could include the provision of bodyguards for MPs most at risk. The funding will also be used for additional police patrols in response to increased community tensions.

British Home Secretary James Cleverly said no MP should have to accept threats or harassment as “part of the job.”

Many have expressed growing concern in recent months over their MPs’ safety, particularly after the outbreak of the ongoing Israel-Palestinian war in Gaza in October 2023.

Last week, House of Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle cited threats to politicians during a debate on calls for a ceasefire in the Gaza War.

Indian-origin British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak also raised concerns about MPs being “verbally threatened and physically, violently targeted” in recent weeks, with “legitimate protests hijacked by extremists.”

The Home Office in London said the fresh funding package would be used to increase private sector security provisions for those facing greater risk and to expand cyber security advice to locally elected representatives. This would also ensure all elected representatives and candidates have a dedicated named police contact to liaise with on security matters.

A new communities fund will be established to allow extra police patrols in England and Wales, with forces able to use the fund to increase police presence in response to specific events.

“The government will take every possible step to safeguard the people, processes, and institutions upon which our democracy relies,” Cleverly said.

“I take the safety and security of all members of the House with the utmost seriousness. None of us should have to accept that enduring hate crimes, harassment, or threats is part of the job.”

Security Minister Tom Tugendhat said: “Over the past few weeks we’ve seen disgraceful attempts to intimidate MPs and undermine our democratic processes. That behavior is a threat to our democracy, and toxic for our society.”

Earlier in February, Conservative MP Tobias Ellwood’s home was targeted by pro-Palestinian protesters with the police warning his family to stay away as it could have “antagonized the situation.”

Another Tory MP, Mike Freer said he will stand down at the next election, after death threats and an alleged arson attack on his constituency office had “become too much.”

Preet Gill, Labour MP for Birmingham Edgbaston, said death threats had become “a norm” in her job, while Conservative Stafford MP Theo Clarke said she carried a panic button directly linked to the police “at all times.”

Last November, the office of shadow Welsh secretary Jo Stevens was dabbed in red paint and plastered on posters accusing her of having “blood” on her hands after she abstained in a vote on a ceasefire in the Gaza War.

The debate over the safety of MPs was heightened after the murder of Labour’s Jo Cox in 2016 in Batley and Conservative Sir David Amess in 2021.

On BBC Breakfast, former Cabinet minister Sir Robert Buckland welcomed the funding, arguing that if MPs were left concerned about their safety “voices will be muffled.”

“If we start sequestering politicians away from the public, I’m worried that Westminster bubble, the ivory tower syndrome, will only get worse and divorce politicians from the people they represent… that’s why safety is a very important consideration.”

Former Deputy Labour leader Harriet Harman had even suggested that particularly vulnerable politicians could be allowed to participate in the House of Commons from home.


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