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Do MPs Need Extra Police Protection from Protesters?

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Crossbench peer Lord Walney, author of a Government-commissioned review has said MPs needed protecting from “intimidation” that could influence how they vote. He has said that police should get extra powers to tackle protests outside Parliament.

His comments come after Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle cited the threat to politicians in his controversial handling of a debate on Gaza.

However, Home Secretary, James Cleverly has said that he did not think police needed “significantly greater” powers to tackle demonstrations outside Parliament.

Ceasefire Vote Row

A vote on a ceasefire in Gaza descended into chaos on Wednesday after the Speaker 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.

Sir Lindsay has apologised for his handling of the vote, but it has plunged his position into crisis, with the SNP reacting furiously and declaring no confidence in him on Thursday. Several Conservative MPs have questioned his decision to allow Labour’s motion on safety grounds, arguing he was letting Parliament be intimidated by threats of violence. More than 60 Conservative and SNP MPs have signed a Commons motion saying they have no confidence in him.

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.

Responses

Writing in the Telegraph, former Home Secretary Suella Braverman accused Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer of “bowing to the mob”. Braverman has previously labelled pro-Palestine protests as “hate marches”.

Although James Cleverly has said that he did not think police needed “significantly greater” powers to tackle demonstrations outside Parliament, he has highlighted the need for police to stop protests outside MPs houses and offices. “Where a mob of people are outside someone’s private residence, clearly with the intention of distorting their future votes, that is unacceptable and we expect the police to deal with it.” He said police already have the powers that they need to stop protests outside MPs’ homes and offices, “and we also want them to understand that they have our backing when they use those powers”.

He labelled these protests as “unacceptable” noting that it is “nonsense” for protesters to claim that they are not seeking to intimidate MPs. “The ballot box is where people and organisations should make their views clear” he said.

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said Ms Braverman’s comments about Labour were “total nonsense”. However, she said she agreed with tougher action to tackle protests outside MPs’ homes, branding these a “disgrace”.

Final Thought

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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