Call for new police powers to protect MPs from anti-Israel mob

The government’s Independent Adviser on Political Violence and Disruption is pushing for the change


Demonstrators wave Palestinian flags and hold placards as they protest in Parliament Square in London on February 21, 2024 (Photo by ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP via Getty Images)

The government is considering giving police new powers to protect MPs, peers and their staff from anti-Israel protesters.

Lord Walney, the government’s Independent Adviser on Political Violence and Disruption, has been pushing for the step after Westminster was mobbed by a Gaza protest on 21 February and Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle voiced fears about the “frightening threats” being directed at MPs.

A report by Walney, being considered by the Home Office, recommends “expedited public spaces protection orders” to give the police sweeping powers to break up protests deemed to pose a threat.

Walney told the JC that the orders would permit “a much more rapid and effective response” during incidents such 21 February protest, when the slogan “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” was projected onto Big Ben. Widely voiced by Hamas and its supporters, most Jews understand this as a demand for Israel’s annihilation.

Friends of speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle said he “strongly supports” Walney’s recommendation.

The calls to change the law come as Levelling-Up secretary Michael Gove prepares to unveil a new official definition of extremism, intended to ensure that all public bodies, including government departments, councils and universities, cut all ties to organisations that fall within its scope.

In an interview last weekend, Gove said that some of the groups behind the marches since the October 7 terrorist massacre were “trying to subvert democracy”, and that chants such as “from the river to the sea” had allowed “the legitimisation of an extremist position”.

He is expected to issue the new definition on Thursday. A government source told the JC that it was still unclear whether it would name specific organisations, amid claims that this would likely face legal obstacles.

Cross bench peer Walney, who as the Labour MP John Woodcock left the party over its handling of antisemitism under Jeremy Corbyn, said that on the night of the Big Ben protest, “Parliament was effectively encircled, so you could hardly get out. I ended up literally having to squeeze past protestors who had got inside the barriers.”

He said MPs and other politicians should not have to put up with “a level of intimidation that has left them unable to go about their business and fearful for their lives”, with the result that many had now been forced to ask for security measures that were previously adopted only by members of the cabinet.

Walney told the JC: “It’s not a question of saying, protests can no longer be allowed, but we need a much more considered approach to when allowing people to have their say tips over into intimidation and threats.”

He pointed out that the recent protests were “not taking pace in a vacuum” but in the wake of the murders of two MPs, Jo Cox and David Amess, in the past eight years. In his view, there was a “direct link” between the perceived level of threat and the “the screaming hatred that we see at demonstrations”.

Expedited public spaces protection orders were created by the 2022 Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act. They allow those who fear they may be at risk to apply for an order from the relevant local authority, which must be satisfied that if a demonstration went ahead, it was likely that its targets would be harassed or intimidated.

Andrew Percy said Walney’s proposal would be a “valuable tool in the arsenal” against threats which were “damaging democracy”. Former security and counter-terrorism minister Sir John Hayes said Walney’s proposal was “a very good idea”.

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