A Tory former Defence Minister doubled-down on his call for a temporary suspension of public meetings between MPs and their constituents this evening, as he warned ‘there could be a copycat-style attack’ following the killing of Sir David Amess by a suspected terrorist.
Tobias Ellwood, the chairman of the Commons Defence Select Committee, urged a ‘pause in face-to-face’ consultations between parliamentarians and members of the public until a safety review had been completed in the wake of Sir David’s death on Friday.
His proposal was shot down by defiant Conservatives including former Cabinet minister David Davis. Labour’s Harriet Harman called for an official review of MPs’ safety, while ex-Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott also rallied against ‘airport-style screening’ – but told the BBC she would support meeting constituents behind a screen to prevent possible stab attacks.
And Home Secretary Priti Patel insisted MPs must keep meeting voters, telling the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show it would be ‘unacceptable’ for the killing to ‘break the link between an elected representative and their democratic role, responsibility and duty to the people who elected them’.
However, the killing of Sir David at Belfairs Methodist Church in Leigh-on-Sea as he met with Southend West constituents has prompted the Government to look at ensuring every MP gets police on guard at their weekly surgeries – a move backed by Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle.
Speaking to Channel 4 this evening, Mr Ellwood doubled-down on his proposal, warning: ‘Ultimately we have to recognise that there could be a copycat-style attack. The police have already made that clear. So yes, absolutely, let’s stand up to the terrorists, let’s make sure that our lifestyles and the way we go about is not altered, that they do not win. But we need to do that in a cognitive way to make sure that MPs, staff and indeed the general public are kept safe.’
The MP for Bournemouth East, who was hailed as a hero for his attempts to save the life of Pc Keith Palmer during the Westminster terror attack in 2017, also told the broadcaster that he had discussed the security implications of the withdrawal from Afghanistan for terrorism and extremism with Sir David last week as they visited Doha in Qatar.
Tobias Ellwood (left), the Tory chairman of the Commons Defence Select Committee, urged a ‘pause in face-to-face’ consultations between parliamentarians and members of the public until a safety review had been completed following the killing of Sir David Amess (right) by a suspected terrorist
Home Secretary Priti Patel insisted that MPs must keep meeting voters, telling the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show this morning it would be ‘unacceptable’ for Sir David’s killing to ‘break the link between an elected representative and their democratic role, responsibility and duty to the people who elected them’
Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer join Home Secretary Priti Patel and the Speaker of the House of Commons Sir Lindsay Hoyle as they pay their respects to Sir David
Police officers erect a tent outside a house in north London, thought to be in relation to the death of Sir David
‘Nobody should die in that way. Nobody’: Family of murdered MP Sir David Amess say ‘our hearts are shattered’ – but urge people to ‘show love to all’ and support causes he championed in his memory so ‘some good can come from this tragedy’
The devastated family of Conservative MP Sir David Amess today said they are ‘absolutely broken’ by his killing, adding in an emotional statement: ‘As a family, we are trying to understand why this awful thing has occurred. Nobody should die in that way.’
In a statement released through the Metropolitan Police, Sir David’s family said: ‘The family would like to thank everyone for the wonderful, wonderful tributes paid to David following his cruel and violent death. It truly has brought us so much comfort. The support shown by friends, constituents and the general public alike has been so overwhelming. As a family it has given us strength.
‘We have realised from tributes paid that there was far, far more to David than even we, those closest to him, knew. We are enormously proud of him. Our hearts are shattered. However, there was still so much David wanted to do – this we know from the events of the last few days. So, this is not the end of Sir David Amess MP. It is the next chapter and as a family we ask everyone to support the many charities he worked with. There are so many to mention, so find one close to your hearts and help.
‘David had recently joined a campaign to help raise funds for a memorial to Dame Vera Lynn. To him she epitomised the strength and courage of our nation. We would ask as many people as possible to support this and meet the target to complete the project.
‘Closer to home, David was working hard for Southend to gain city status. In his memory, please show your support for this campaign. Strong and courageous is an appropriate way to describe David. He was a patriot and a man of peace. So, we ask people to set aside their differences and show kindness and love to all. This is the only way forward. Set aside hatred and work towards togetherness.
‘Whatever one’s race, religious or political beliefs, be tolerant and try to understand. As a family, we are trying to understand why this awful thing has occurred. Nobody should die in that way. Nobody. Please let some good come from this tragedy. We are absolutely broken, but we will survive and carry on for the sake of a wonderful and inspiring man.
‘We ask at this time that the family’s privacy be respected so that we can grieve in private.’
Defiant MPs continued to hold constituency surgeries as normal on Saturday, while debate raged over whether Parliamentarians should be given police guards.
Mr Shelbrooke, Tory MP for Elmet and Rothwell, who held a surgery at a local supermarket yesterday, said: ‘We cannot let events like this diminish the deep relationship between an MP and their constituents.
‘This is a relationship I value deeply: I want my constituents, regardless of whether they voted for me or not, to be able to approach me in the street, in the pub, at the supermarket or at one of my surgeries.’
Mr Davis said suspending public meetings would be ‘a terrible reflection of what David stood for’. Mr Largan, Tory MP for High Peak, tweeted: ‘I’ll keep on doing my weekly surgery, all year round, whatever the weather! We all need to stand up for our democracy!’
And Dr Kieran Mullan, the Tory MP for Crewe and Nantwich, tweeted: ‘Surgery today, we must not let people force us to do things differently. David would not have wanted that.’
Meanwhile, the longest continuously serving female MP, Ms Harman, said she would be writing to the Prime Minister urging him to back a Speaker’s Conference to look into what needs to change to ensure parliamentarians are safe in their constituencies.
Speaking to the BBC, the veteran Labour politician said: ‘We cannot have the death of an MP being a price worth paying for our democracy.’
She added: ‘I don’t think anybody wants to go to a situation where the police are vetting individual constituents who come and see us, but I’m sure there is a safer way to go about our business.
‘Since Jo Cox’s tragic killing, we’ve had changes in our home security, we’ve had changes in security in Parliament, but we haven’t looked at the issue of how we go about that important business in our constituency, but do it in a safe way – and I think we must do that now.’
Conservative MP Kevin Foster, who represents Torbay, said it is ‘not practical’ to have airport-style security at MPs’ surgeries.
Defence minister James Heappey, the Conservative MP for Wells, echoed that sentiment, telling PA news agency: ‘Tweaks to security might be necessary but nothing can fundamentally change: those surgeries are foundations on which service as MP is delivered.’
Tory Harrow East MP Bob Blackman said he and his colleagues will now be ‘wary’ of what they do following Sir David’s death, but former universities minister Chris Skidmore – who represents Kingswood constituency – said it still felt ‘absolutely natural that I would continue to hold in-person events’.
That sentiment was mirrored on the Labour benches, with Hull East MP Karl Turner arguing against vetting who elected representatives see and that politicians had to accept there is a risk involved with their work.
‘I think you can do as much as you can possibly do but if a knife-wielding maniac bursts into your room, what can you do about that really?’ he told PA.
‘I think you’ve got to take the risk. I’m not pretending to be any kind of a hero, far from it, but I think it is a pretty bad deal if you can’t see your MP.’
Ms Abbott said she would support meeting constituents behind a screen to prevent possible stab attacks, but she too rallied against ‘airport-style screening’.
‘I would prefer going forward to meet constituents behind a screen, as we have now for Covid and so on – that might be quite complicated to arrange but at least you know someone’s not going to just lean over the desk and stab you, which could happen now,’ she told the BBC.
After the attack on Friday, police were said to be contacting all MPs to check on their security.
Writing in The Observer and the Mail on Sunday, Sir Lindsay said he was ‘working closely and at pace with the Home Office and the police’ to identify ways to improve MPs’ safety.
The attack came five-and-a-half years after Labour MP Jo Cox was killed by a far-right extremist in her Batley and Spen constituency in West Yorkshire.
Speaking to the Andrew Marr Show this morning, the Home Secretary also said the Government is ‘looking at’ whether there needs to be more action to stop threats and abuse being posted anonymously online.
However, Conservative MP Andrew Rosindell, a close friend of Sir David, lashed out at the police for ignoring threats.
An ongoing investigation into Sir David’s death has been focusing on multiple areas including Camden, Croydon and another unspecified address in London
People look at flowers left by the police cordon nearby the Belfairs Methodist Church
Conservative Colleague Mark Francois was among the many to lay flowers at at the scene near Belfairs Methodist Church in Eastwood Road North, Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, where Sir David was killed on Friday
Prevent programme will be reviewed to see if it is ‘fit for purpose’, says Priti Patel – as it is claimed suspect in David Amess terror murder ‘had been referred’ to anti-radicalisation scheme
The Home Secretary has said the Prevent programme is being reviewed to ensure it is fit for purpose as it is claimed the suspect in the murder of Sir David Amess ‘had been referred’ to the scheme.
Priti Patel said the independent review of the programme, which is aimed at stopping people from being radicalised, would help ‘address any gaps’ in the service.
It comes after reports that the prime suspect in the murder of Sir David Amess was known to counter-terror police and it is believed he had been referred to the Prevent programme.
The Southend West MP was stabbed to death at a constituency surgery in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, on Friday afternoon.
Scotland Yard have since designated the incident as a terror attack and counter-terror officers are leading the investigation, probing motives linked to Islamist extremism.
‘I’ve had four or five incidents where I’ve had to report things to the police,’ he told Times Radio. ‘And quite often they literally don’t do anything or the onus is on me to give endless statements which lead nowhere.’
Southend West MP Sir David was meeting constituents at a church in Leigh-on-Sea, when he was stabbed to death. Police continue to question a 25-year-old British man of Somalian descent last night and have been granted permission to detain him until Friday under the Terrorism Act.
Speaking to Sky News’ Trevor Phillips On Sunday programme this morning, Ms Patel said many MPs would be ‘reflecting’ upon their own constituency interactions and safety this weekend.
But she insisted it was crucial that MPs continue to do their democratic duty by meeting voters.
‘I’ve been a member of parliament for just over 10 years and we are part of the fabric, the DNA of society, our democracy, freedom, the chance for people to engage with us,’ she said. ‘But what I would say is that a lot has changed.’
Ms Patel said the murder of Jo Cox was an ‘intensive period’ for MPs when it came to thinking about their own safety, adding: ‘We have all changed our ways of working because of changing concerns, threats in society.’
But she added: ‘This should never ever break that link between an elected representative and their democratic role, responsibility and duty to the people who elected them.’
Ms Patel said the Speaker ‘has already put in a range of measures post-Friday, as we have with policing, but within that there are other options that are being considered, such as when you hold your surgeries could you have officers or some kind of protection while you’re holding you surgery’.
‘Now it’s not for me to determine the mechanism for that right now but there are discussions under way right now looking at a whole spectrum. That’s only one example, and there are others as well that are actively under consideration right now,’ she said,
She said it is ‘not necessarily about new resources’ but said ‘we will do absolutely everything.. to safeguard our democracy and enable our elected representatives to carry on doing what they do, serving the public.’
Pushed on whether she will consider removing the right to anonymity on social media, Ms Patel said: ‘I want us to look at everything.
‘There is work taking place already. We have an Online Harms Bill that will come to Parliament, there is working taking place on it right now. I’ve done a lot of work on social media platforms, mainly around encryption and areas of that nature.
‘But we can’t carry on like this. I spend too much time with communities who have been under attack, basically who have had all sorts of postings online and it is a struggle to get those posts taken down. We want to make some big changes on that.’
Parliament bosses have not renewed their contract with Chubb who were brought in after the murder of Jo Cox five years ago to install additional security for MPs when they are not in their offices.
According to the Telegraph, MPs complained of slow service and poor security advice and the company will be replaced by ADT later this year, he firm used by the Home Office to install alarms for high-risk Cabinet ministers.
One MP told the Telegraph: ‘They have yet to do a single thing in my new house, despite getting on to them the day after I moved in.
‘It also took a year to do the most basic stuff at my office, like fitting a new front door.’
The newspaper reports that some MPs have been offered fixed panic alarms in their constituency offices and homes, while others have been given portable ‘lone worker devices’ that can alert police if they are in danger.