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£31m Package Announced to Counter Threat to MPs’ Security

mps safety

Due to growing concerns over the safety of MPs, the Government has announced that MPs facing threats will get extra security, as part of a £31m package to help protect the UK’s democratic processes from disruption.

Home Secretary James Cleverly will hold talks with police chiefs to discuss how to better ensure the safety of MPs.

Additional funding to protect MPs

The funding could be used for the provision of bodyguards for MPs most at risk, as well as increased police patrols in response to heightened community tensions and mass protests since the outbreak of the war in Gaza.

The Home Office said the 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. It said the money would also ensure all elected representatives and candidates have a dedicated named police contact to liaise with on security matters.

Meanwhile, 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.

Last week in the Commons, the Speaker cited the threat to politicians in his controversial handling of a debate on Gaza; a vote on a ceasefire descended into chaos on after he broke with convention to allow MPs to vote on a Labour amendment. He argued that letting MPs vote on a wider range of positions would protect them from threats to their safety, amid heightened scrutiny of their stance on the conflict. Defending his decision, the speaker said some of threats posed to MPs were “absolutely frightening,” but he did not give details of specific threats.

This led to discourse surrounding increasing police powers. Lord Walney, the former Labour MP John Woodcock, was commissioned three years ago to write a review into tackling political violence, which is yet to be published. The Financial Times reported it was set to recommend a widening of police powers to break up protests outside democratic venues.

It said it would recommend extending Expedited Public Space Protection Orders, which can currently be used only to break up protests outside schools and vaccination clinics, to Parliament, MPs’ offices and council buildings. The orders, granted by local authorities, can last up to six months, with fines for those who breach them.

The Public Order Act, passed last year, gave police greater powers to tackle disruption at demonstrations. The government’s Criminal Justice Bill, which is making its way through Parliament, will also give them greater powers.

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Responses

Lindsay Hoyle said the money provided “much-needed reassurance. It will enable us to build on the improvements we have made over the past two years, working with the police and Home Office to enhance security at MPs’ homes and offices, and crucially when they are out and about meeting their constituents.”

Former Cabinet minister Sir Robert Buckland also said he welcomed the funding, arguing that if MPs were left concerned about their safety “voices will be muffled”. He said “if we start sequestering politicians away from the public, I’m worried that 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 suggested particularly vulnerable politicians could be allowed to participate in the House of Commons from home. She said “they could sometimes vote through the division lobbies, or they could sometimes vote online. I think we’ve got a process now that we experimented with during Covid, which we could actually bring that back in.”

However, the prime minister’s deputy spokesperson said Rishi Sunak did not want to see “anything that restricts debate” adding: “MPs should be on the floor of the House having robust debate, expressing their views. That is fundamental to our democracy.”

Final thought

The debate over the safety of MPs was heightened after the murder of Labour’s Jo Cox in 2016 and Conservative Sir David Amess in 2021. The murders prompted a review of security measures, with changes including included improved security at MPs’ homes and offices and additional private sector-delivered security where necessary.

No politician should have their safety threatened but the debate about public engagement with MPs has caused some concern, especially in light of Government efforts to crackdown on the right to protest. Critics have argued that we must not allow this to be a pretext to attack our democratic rights; protests do not necessarily mean threats and it is important that MPs are held to account by the electorate.

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