Photo credit: LEGADO – German Falcon
Britain’s Justice Minister, Mike Freer MP, has announced this week that he will be stepping down as an MP in the upcoming general election due to death threats he received on account of his pro-Israel views. He is expected to quit politics altogether, citing that a December arson attack which saw his constituency office go up in flames was “the final straw.”
Mr Freer is the MP for Finchley and Golders Green – a constituency located in the heartland of the UK’s Jewish community. In the past, he has faced threats and protests from Islamist groups and he and his staff have been forced to wear stab-proof vests in public. His family is understandably committed to ensuring Freer’s security. Given the level of threat, that has meant his husband insisting that Freer is picked up from Tube stations, and in general not letting him navigate the streets alone.
But following the 7 October Hamas attack on Israel, the situation took a turn for the worse, culminating in the arson attack that gutted the Finchely & Golders Green Conservative Association office. Freer’s criticism of antisemitic incidents in the wake of the attacks and support for Israel have made him a prime target for extremist groups.
Speaking on the matter, on Thursday, Freer told the BBC that “when you get a constant string of incidents, some of which threaten your life, there comes a point where you say enough is enough.”
Freer is not the sole Member of Parliament grappling with fears about their physical safety; a concerning trend has emerged in recent years across the UK. The nation has witnessed a surge in the number of death threats specifically targeting politicians, and tragically, some of these incidents have resulted in fatalities.
In 2021, Sir David Amess, another British Conservative politician and a leading parliamentary supporter of Conservative Friends of Israel, was murdered at his constituency surgery at Belfairs Methodist Church Hall in Essex. He was killed by Ali Harbi Ali, a fanatical terrorist, and a known Islamic State sympathizer. Following his arrest, the police discovered that Harbi Ali had also scouted out Mike Freer’s office several times and indeed that Freer had narrowly escaped an encounter with him in person. And in 2016, Labour MP Jo Cox, was killed by a far-right extremist.
The assassination of Sir David Amess brought to light a disturbing reality: a significant number of MPs in the UK, to varying extents, have encountered death threats and other terrifying menaces to their personal safety. Disturbingly, between 2017 and 2018, there was a staggering 126% increase in MPs reporting alleged crimes, as revealed by the Metropolitan Police.
Despite some security tightening following Cox’s death, to date, the country has not found an adequate solution to the problem – with some MPs opting to decrease their surgeries or make them appointment-only. Others have maintained that events and threats like this cannot “diminish the deep relationship between an MP and their constituents.” They know that by doing so, they may well be dicing with death on every occasion.
It is extraordinary that British MPs in 2024 should feel that the threat of political violence from extremists is such that they should leave the political arena. The safety and security of British MPs should not be subject to compromise. Every British MP must have the freedom to express their views and uphold their beliefs without living in constant fear for their personal or physical safety.
It is therefore imperative for the UK to take decisive action to halt this alarming trend; enough is truly enough. Given the disturbing rise of antisemitism in the UK, particularly since the 7 October attack, a resolute response and enhanced protection for UK politicians speaking out against it have become more crucial than ever. The failure to protect our MPs is, ultimately, also a failure to protect British democracy.