MPs ‘likely’ to be offered private security guards after David Amess killing, says Dominic Raab

Justice secretary worries about potential ‘chilling effect’ of police at surgeries

Adam Forrest
Monday 18 October 2021 08:01
MPs set to be offered private security, says Dominic Raab

MPs are set to be offered more private security guards for when meeting their constituents at surgery events following the murder of Sir David Amess, the justice secretary has signalled.

Dominic Raab said an increase in private security is the most “likely” option to boost safety, rather than putting more police officers outside MPs’ surgeries.

Home secretary Priti Patel said on Sunday that MPs could be given police protection while they carry out constituency meetings as part of a “range of measures” under consideration.

But the justice secretary raised concerns that having police officers could have a “chilling effect”, as constituents look to engage with their elected representative.

Asked if he would welcome officers at his surgeries, Raab told Sky News: “I probably wouldn’t choose to have them outside a surgery that I had. I would worry about the chilling effect, I’m not sure it’s necessary to have that.”

The cabinet minister added: “I think we’re more likely to look at things like private security guards – there’s already I believe money available for that.”

Raab said he would not stand in the way of colleagues who wished to have a police presence while meeting the public. “It depends on the individual,” he said.

But the minister added: “We don’t let the terrorists win by creating wedges or walls between us and those who vote us in ... You do not want to add to that sense of foreboding as they’re waiting for a constituency surgery.”

Warning against a blanket approach to security measures, Raab later told LBC: “I don’t want to overreact … I personally feel pretty secure, but others will feel differently in their circumstances. One thing we’ll want to do is take a proportionate approach.”

Patel has ordered a police review of MPs’ security following the killing at a constituency surgery in Sir David’s Southend West seat, and is expected to address the House of Commons on Monday.

The home secretary said on Sunday that police protection was part of a “spectrum” of options – saying the government was looking “when you hold your surgeries could you have officers or some kind of protection while you’re holding your surgery”.

She also said there was a need to “close any gaps” on security – citing measures like “booking appointments in advance, checking the details of the individuals that you are seeing, checking the locations in advance that you are going to”.

The government has ruled out armed police officers at constituency surgeries and is set to offer more private security guards instead, according to The Times.

Stephen Roberts, former deputy assistant commissioner to the Met Police, said each MPs’ security protection would need to be “tailored” to what they were comfortable with.

“I heard Dominic Raab say he would be very unhappy having police outside a surgery he was running … so there’s going to be proportionate protection for each MPs’ circumstances,” Roberts told Sky News.

Tory MP Tobias Ellwood has argued that MPs should hold surgeries by Zoom instead of holding face-to-face meetings, while Labour MP Diane Abbott has suggested they take place behind screens.

Shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds told BBC Breakfast the Hackney North and Stoke Newington MP “speaks from experience”.

The Labour frontbencher, who said he had received death threats as an MP, added: “I think we need to look at a range of different options here. I think there’s the screen option made by Diane. I know that others are talking about police presence at surgeries.”

Raab revealed on Monday that he has had three threats to “life and limb” over the past two years – saying the incidents “resulted in an intervention” without giving further details.

He told BBC Breakfast: “There will be people who have worse abuse than me – and I particularly feel for the female MPs, and I know colleagues of mine who have come off, for example, Twitter because it’s just so vile.”

Raab signalled he could support closing anonymous social media accounts to tackle online hatred – but also warned of the potential impact on freedom of speech.

He raised concerns that he did not want to “send a message to tyrants all over the world that they can expose” campaigners who need anonymity.

But he added: “On balance I think there is a case for really looking very carefully at this … I don’t see why people should be able to abuse the position on social media from a veil of anonymity.”

Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle has said the UK must avoid a “knee-jerk reaction” to the problem of keeping MPs safe in the wake of Sir David Amess’s murder.

He added that he does not want to end up in a situation where MPs have the level of security that surrounds US politicians, such as Democrat Nancy Pelosi.

He told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: “Do I want to be like Speaker Pelosi, who can’t go anywhere without armed police? Is that a life I want? No.”

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