Speaker urges MPs to ‘turn down the heat’ as minister quits over safety concerns

The Commons Speaker has called for a “nicer politics” after justice minister Mike Freer announced he was planning to quit Parliament after a series of death threats and an arson attack on his office.

Sir Lindsey Hoyle said Commons authorities “never stop looking ahead to see what else we can do to protect MPs” and insisted Parliament would “never give in to terrorism” or threats.

In an interview with Sky News, he also urged MPs to “turn down the heat” in Parliament itself and set a better example for the public.

He said: “People reflect how we treat each other, and that’s why I want us to have a nicer politics within the House.

Before Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, Sir Lindsay had urged MPs to show “self-restraint” after “lively” exchanges in recent weeks.

On Thursday, MPs from all parties condemned the abuse that had led Mr Freer, who has represented Finchley and Golders Green since 2010, to decide not to contest the next election.

Commons leader Penny Mordaunt said: “It is an absolute tragedy that people who come here in good faith to represent their constituencies and do a job they love doing are hounded out of office or have to leave office because of the wellbeing of their family.”

Prime Minister’s Questions
Sir David Amess was stabbed to death by Ali Habi Ali in 2021 (UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor/PA)

“Quite often that permission to do serious physical harm and the motivation for it often starts on social media.”

In an interview with GB News on Thursday, Mr Freer also called for social media firms to take more action against content that incites violence against MPs.

He said: “Email and social media (companies) have a lot to answer for, because it can be kind of anonymous, certainly (on) social media.

“Social media companies do very little to just stop it.”

In Parliament, shadow Commons leader Lucy Powell said she wanted to express “profound regret” that Mr Freer had stood down, adding: “The recent attack on his office was horrific. That any member is forced from office due to intimidation, threats and fear is an attack on all of us and what we represent.

“It is unacceptable and we must do more to protect our freedoms and democracy, and we stand together.”

Downing Street described the “vitriolic hatred” that Mr Freer has faced as an “attack on British democracy”.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “The Prime Minister is extremely saddened that minister Freer has faced such vitriolic hatred that he feels he is no longer able to serve his local community.

“The Prime Minister believes that serving and representing your community is a unique privilege and making a difference to people’s lives is the most rewarding job you can do.

“No elected representative deserves to be abused or intimidated and the attacks and abuse that Mike Freer references are clearly deeply distressing. They’re not just an attack on him but an attack on British democracy.”

On Wednesday, Mr Freer announced that he would not fight the next election, telling the Daily Mail: “There comes a point when the threats to your personal safety become too much.”

He said he and his staff had started wearing stab vests after learning he had narrowly avoided being attacked by Ali Harbi Ali, who went on to murder Southend West MP Sir David Amess in 2021 after watching for Mr Freer at his Finchley office.

He said he had also received death threats from a group calling themselves Muslims Against Crusades, and added that the arson attack on his constituency office in December had been “the final straw”.

Mr Freer, who has pro-Israel views and represents a heavily Jewish constituency, said “I don’t think we can divorce” antisemitism from the intimidation.

Two people appeared in court on Thursday charged in connection with the fire at Mr Freer’s office, which police said is not being treated as a hate crime. The court heard that both deny setting fire to anything, but they are yet to formally enter pleas.

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