Rishi Sunak warns of ‘toxic’ culture in UK politics amid threats to MPs

MPs were facing ‘security threats’ over their voting intentions

UK elections 2024 UK PM Rishi Sunak | Reuters

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has warned against a growing toxic culture in politics amid reports of members of Parliament facing security threats over their voting intentions in the House of Commons related to the Israel-Gaza conflict.

The 43-year-old British Indian leader issued a statement on Saturday to condemn the hijacking of protests on the streets of the country by extremists to glorify terrorism. It came as a report in The Sunday Times' newspaper claims that three unnamed female MPs have been sanctioned additional security after concerns about their safety.

"The explosion in prejudice and antisemitism since the Hamas attacks on the 7 October [2023] are as unacceptable as they are un-British. Simply put antisemitism is racism," said Sunak in his statement.

"Legitimate protests hijacked by extremists to promote and glorify terrorism, elected representatives verbally threatened and physically, violently targeted and antisemitic tropes beamed onto our own Parliament building," he said, with reference to an offensive projection on the Palace of Westminster recently.

"And in Parliament this week a very dangerous signal was sent that this sort of intimidation works. It is toxic for our society and our politics and is an affront to the liberties and values we hold dear here in Britain," he said of the scenes of chaos in the Commons last week over a Gaza ceasefire vote.

While he did not make a reference to it specifically, his intervention came soon after the governing Conservatives suspended party MP Lee Anderson after he claimed during an interview that Pakistani-origin London Mayor Sadiq Khan was under the control of Islamists.

The Opposition had demanded action over the remarks, which Labour Leader Keir Starmer branded as a racist and Islamophobic outburst.

"This isn't just embarrassing for the Conservative Party, it emboldens the worst forces in our politics," said Starmer.

The row follows an article by former home secretary Suella Braverman over the weekend that claimed Islamists and extremists were taking charge in all walks of life in Britain, attacked as extreme rhetoric by the Opposition parties.

Braverman, sacked from the Cabinet by Sunak last year, was reacting to Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle saying that he had selected certain amendments to a motion related to ceasefire in Gaza in a bid to ensure all options were on the table for MPs to vote on and to protect MPs' safety.

According to The Sunday Times' report, UK Security Minister Tom Tugendhat has been working with the Home Office, the police and the parliamentary authorities to significantly enhance the safety and security of MPs. As part of the overhaul, the royal and VIP executive committee (RAVEC), which is responsible for the security of the royal family as well as senior politicians including the prime minister and home secretary, has been brought in to help assess the threat to MPs.

Many MPs are petrified by the abuse they are facing, a senior security source was quoted as saying.

It is understood that the female MPs requiring additional security have been provided with close protection by private companies, along with chauffeur-driven cars, which are normally provided only to senior members of the Cabinet and the Leader of the Opposition. 

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