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MPs plead for security help after Tory minister quits over death threats

A minister in Rishi Sunak’s government has said he is quitting parliament at the general election after a series of death threats and an arson attack on his constituency office.

Justice minister Mike Freer said he had avoided murder “by the skin of my teeth” – as MPs urged the government, their own parties and Commons authorities to do more to ensure proper security protection.

Mr Freer – the Tory MP for London’s Finchley and Golders Green seat since 2010 – said it was time to say “enough” as he could no longer put his family through fears for his safety.

The minister, who has pro-Israel views and represents a heavily Jewish constituency, said antisemitism was behind some of the intimidation and attacks on his office.

The MP said he was shocked to learn that Ali Harbi Ali – who went on to kill Southend West MP David Amess – had previously watched his Finchley office.

“There comes a point when the threats to your personal safety become too much,” he said in an interview with the Daily Mail.

Mr Freer said: “I was very lucky that actually on the day I was due to be in Finchley, I happened to change my plans and came into Whitehall. Otherwise who knows whether I would have been attacked or survived an attack. He said he came to Finchley to attack me.”

Conservative MP Mike Freer says there has been a history of attacks on him and his office (PA)
Conservative MP Mike Freer says there has been a history of attacks on him and his office (PA)

The MP and his staff started wearing stab vests at public events after learning that Ali had watched his Finchley office before going on to knife Amess to death during a constituency surgery in 2021.

The minister said he had also received threats from the group Muslims Against Crusades “about coming to stab me” and found “mock molotov cocktails on the office steps”.

The arson attack on his north London constituency office in December was “the final straw”, he said.

Commons speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle said he was “saddened” to hear that Mr Freer was quitting – admitting it was a “big challenge” to make MPs feel safe.

Sir Lindsay told ITV’s Good Morning Britain programme that “we all get death threats” – appearing to suggest that it was normal. But he also insisted that the abuse and threats aimed at politicians is “not acceptable”.

He later told Sky News he wanted MPs at Westminster to take the “heat” out of general election “fever”, suggesting it was adding to the febrile atmosphere.

Sir Lindsay said: “I want us to have a nicer politics within the House. That’s why I made the statement [on Wednesday], to try and turn down the heat of each [PMQs] – because in the end, don’t be shocked if people react in the way that we react to each other.”

He added: “I will do whatever I can as speaker, working with the security, working with the police, working with ministers, to ensure that members are safe, their families are safe, their offices safe. But that is the big challenge at the moment. It really is a threat.”

Commons speaker Lindsay Hoyle said MPs had to turn down the ‘heat’ (PA)
Commons speaker Lindsay Hoyle said MPs had to turn down the ‘heat’ (PA)

Amid fresh questions for the government and Commons authorities on security, Penny Mordaunt, the Tories’ Commons leader, said she knew many MPs were “enduring” threats and intimidation.

“Such attacks on elected members are attacks on democracy itself,” the senior Tory said in the Commons. “We condemn such actions and those who also encourage, incite and excuse them.”

Labour MP Barry Sheerman criticised his own party as well as the Commons authorities, as he revealed that he had “raised my own worries and concerns in my own case recently”.

He asked Ms Mordaunt about how better support can be given to MPs, adding: “I recently raised my problems, I haven’t had much help or support from the House or even from my own party.”

Penny Mordaunt said many MPs were ‘enduring’ abuse and threats (PA)
Penny Mordaunt said many MPs were ‘enduring’ abuse and threats (PA)

Ms Mordaunt said the public “can help” with the problem too as she criticised social media, urging voters not to “dehumanise” MPs online.

“Whatever you think of a person’s political persuasions or their views or their voting record, they are here at the service of the people who sent them here, and that deserves respect and it deserves our protection too.”

Tory MP Bob Blackman also pressed the government to ensure antisemitism is “prosecuted properly” after raising the decision of Mr Freer to quit parliament.

The MP for Harrow East said ministers must raise the matter with the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to make sure “that this is the last case of this and antisemitism is prosecuted properly”.

Mr Sunak’s attorney general Victoria Prentis said she was working closely with the CPS and police. The cabinet minister said a “large number of prosecutions” have started on antisemitism cases in the wake of the Hamas attack on Israel.

“We’re just starting to enter the phase – as we all saw, very sadly, a large uptick in this horrible crime after 7 October last year – where trials are beginning where people have not pleaded guilty,” said Ms Prentis.

Shadow Commons leader Lucy Powell shared her “profound regret” that Mr Freer was forced to quit. “That any member is forced from office due to intimidation, threats and fear is an attack on all of us and what we represent,” she said.

Mr Freer won his seat by around 6,600 votes at the last general election in 2019, seeing off a Liberal Democrat. Mr Freer joins a series of MPs who have announced their intention not to contest the next election, which is expected later this year.

Sarah Sackman, Labour’s candidate in Finchley and Golders Green, said she was “shocked” by the reason for his exit. She added: “We should have been able to face each other in the polls based on our ideas and merits. Instead, politics is now so often skewed by violent language, hate and the dangers of social media.”

Tory former minister Sir Conor Burns said it was a “totally understandable decision”. He tweeted: “The drip-drip of hate (not exclusively from people on the other side) and remorseless cynicism will drive more people out of politics.”