UK descending into ‘mob rule,’ Sunak says as he urges police to protect MPs

The Prime Minister wants forces to sign up to a new ‘democratic policing protocol’ to protect the democratic process from disruption.

Sophie Wingate
Wednesday 28 February 2024 19:35 GMT
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak warns the UK is descending into ‘mob rule’ (James Manning/PA)
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak warns the UK is descending into ‘mob rule’ (James Manning/PA) (PA Wire)

Rishi Sunak has warned that the UK is descending into “mob rule” as he told police they must use the powers they have or risk losing public confidence amid fears about MPs being targeted by demonstrators heightened by the Israel-Hamas conflict.

The Prime Minister discussed a new “democratic policing protocol” with police chiefs, which would see more patrols and “provides clarity that protests at elected representatives’ homes should be treated as intimidatory”.

He was speaking to police leaders about the issues around MPs’ safety at a roundtable meeting in Downing Street on Wednesday afternoon alongside Home Secretary James Cleverly.

We simply cannot allow this pattern of increasingly violent and intimidatory behaviour

Rishi Sunak

Mr Sunak said: “There is a growing consensus that mob rule is replacing democratic rule.

“And we’ve got to collectively, all of us, change that urgently.”

The new protocol “makes clear the consistent and robust approach that your forces will take from now on to protect our democratic processes from intimidation, disruption, from subversion,” he said, according to a Downing Street read-out.

“We simply cannot allow this pattern of increasingly violent and intimidatory behaviour which is, as far as anyone can see, intended to shout down free debate and stop elected representatives doing their job.

“That is simply undemocratic.”

The Tory leader continued: “But we also need to demonstrate more broadly to the public that you will use the powers you already have, the laws that you have.

“I am going to do whatever it requires to protect our democracy and our values that we all hold dear.

“That is what the public expect.

“It is fundamental to our democratic system.

“And also it is vital for maintaining public confidence in the police.”

The democratic policing protocol sets out that protests at democratic venues or political events should not be allowed to “cause alarm, harassment or distress” to attendees or inhibit the use of the venue, the Home Office said.

Forces will provide additional patrols in communities at risk of “potential flashpoints”.

It comes after the announcement of a £31 million security package to protect MPs from threats, including providing elected politicians with a dedicated police contact to liaise with over safety issues.

But the extra funding announced by Mr Cleverly “misses the point”, a Government minister who is standing down over safety fears said.

Justice minister Mike Freer, who is not standing at the general election because of threats to his safety, said the extra cash is “not actually going to the root cause” of the problem of why people felt emboldened to target MPs.

The new security package will enhance police protection and help fund private security guards for those facing a higher risk.

It will ensure all elected representatives and candidates have a dedicated named police contact to liaise with on security matters.

Mr Cleverly said no MP should have to accept that threats or harassment is “part of the job”.

But Mr Freer, who has pro-Israel views and represents a heavily Jewish constituency in north London’s Finchley and Golders Green, said: “I kind of think it’s missing the point.

“More security is always welcome, but that’s only dealing with the symptom.

“It’s not actually going to the root cause.

“Why do people now feel emboldened to attack members of Parliament to demonstrate outside their homes where they’re intimidating their family?

“Not necessarily the MP, but their family.

“Why should their partners and their children have to put up with being frightened in their own home?

“So, security is welcome. But frankly, unless you get to the root cause, then you’re just going to have a ring of steel around MPs. And our whole style of democracy changes.”

Downing Street insisted action had been taken to ensure there was “no place for hatred or extremism” in the UK.

Responding to Mr Freer’s comments, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “We have taken action in the last year to strengthen our Prevent programme, measures to tackle antisemitism and increase the power of all local authorities in England and Wales to tackle terrorist ideologies.

“But it is unfortunately still sadly necessary that alongside these preventative measures, we protect people and our democratic institutions against hatred, threats and intimidation.”

Labour’s shadow attorney general Emily Thornberry said protesting outside MPs’ homes and offices “has to stop”.

“It is very important that people are able to demonstrate on this extraordinarily important issue (Gaza) and they must be allowed to express themselves,” she told BBC Radio 4’s World At One programme.

“But that should not be expressing themselves in such a way that it is intentionally meant to intimidate politicians.

“That is not right.”

Conservative backbencher Tobias Ellwood’s home was targeted earlier this month by pro-Palestine protesters.

The family homes of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer have also been set upon by environmental activists in past months.

Two serving MPs, Labour’s Jo Cox and Conservative Sir David Amess, have been murdered in the past eight years, with reforms to the security of parliamentarians having been introduced as a result of those killings.

Changes have included improvements to existing security measures at MPs’ homes and offices, and bringing in additional private sector-delivered protective security where necessary.

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