POLITICS
30/01/2020 15:22 GMT | Updated 30/01/2020 15:42 GMT

Ex-MPs Who Got Death Threats Are 'Abandoned By Authorities' After Losing Seats

Exclusive: Former politicians who were told not to use public transport for their own safety before December's election have lost access to security.

Former MPs who were given police protection after receiving threats while in office have been left exposed by the authorities since losing their seats in last year’s snap election, HuffPost UK understands.

Some were told before the election it was too dangerous even to use public transport – but have now been left with no parliament-funded protection or guidance, meaning they have little choice but to ask their local police forces to pick up the tab, or fork out themselves if they can afford it.

Among them is former Labour MP John Mann, who quit the Commons to become a member of the House of Lords.

In doing so, the ex-Bassetlaw member discovered there is no system for maintaining security support for those who lose their seats, or step down.

“It is dangerous for this anomaly not to be rectified immediately,” he told HuffPost UK.  “Those at risk should not face an immediate cut-off of security provided.

“It’s extremely worrying.  There should be a process in place whereby security is funded, and gradually reduced, over a period of three years when an at-risk individual leaves the Commons.  

“They are at risk specifically because they have been an MP. Those threats do not just go away.” 

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Former Labour MP John Mann

Mann, who was nominated for a peerage by former PM Theresa May after heading a government inquiry on tackling anti-Semitism, has raised the issue with the Home Office on behalf of all former politicians worried about their safety.

He has also requested meetings with 10 Downing Street and Commons speaker Lindsay Hoyle.

“I’m confident Boris Johnson doesn’t know the full extent of the situation and I’ll be making sure he is aware,” he added.

“I think it’s disgraceful that people who have had threats made to their lives are now facing the authorities turning their backs on the situation.”

Additional security measures are put in place for some politicians if deemed necessarily by the police and other authorities – if, for example, a threat is made towards them or their staff.

But if those individuals go on to lose their Commons seat, their protection can no longer be legally funded by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA), which deals with MPs’ expenses. 

December’s general election has therefore left some former parliamentarians worried and exposed, unsure whether the threat to their safety remains high and who to turn to for advice.

One ex-MP, who asked not to be named for security reasons, said they had had panic buttons installed in their home during their time in office.

“I was directed to my own local force to see if I would be able to keep them,” they told HuffPost UK.

“I was told I should ‘cultivate a positive relationship’ with [the police] going forward, which was laughable really. I have been in touch with them throughout and they have been amazing. 

“But I’ve received death threats since the election, so the risk certainly hasn’t gone away.”

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MPs who lose their seats also lose access to parliament-funded security.

IPSA spends around £3.5m a year on MPs’ protection and its figures are published regularly. But a spokesperson said a breakdown of individual costs is never made public for security reasons. 

“Unfortunately IPSA is not legally able to support those who are no longer members of parliament,” they added.

Among those who publicly reported receiving death threats in the last parliamentary term are ex-Tory and Independent Group For Change leader Anna Soubry; former Labour MPs Ruth Smeeth and Louise Ellman; Labour-MP-turned-Lib-Dem Luciana Berger and Tory defector Antoinette Sandbach.

In May last year, Jack Renshaw was jailed for life after plotting to murder Labour’s Rosie Cooper – three years on from the killing of Batley and Spen MP Jo Cox by a far-right extremist.

Reports of attacks and threats towards politicians have also increased dramatically, with “unprecedented levels” recorded in 2019.

Another former MP said they had lost access to their portable panic alarm, but had managed to retain home-based panic buttons through local police. 

“It really is extremely worrying,” they added. “I’ve had dozens of death threats and several people have been cautioned or convicted in relation to them.

“I really do feel parliament has a responsibility towards those who are at risk, rather than simply leaving them to deal with it alone, and I plan to write to the speaker’s office about it. 

“In my opinion there should be a specified period, possibly undisclosed, during which former MPs continue to get support with security.”

Associated Press
A photo of murdered Batley and Spen MP Jo Cox surrounded by floral tributes in Parliament Square. Former MPs who received death threats ahead of the last election have had their publicly-funded security withdrawn, sparking safety fears

Outside Westminster, the Community Safety Trust – a charity that supports the Jewish community and high-profile individuals with personal protection – said it has “provided support for a range of people in the public eye, including sitting and former MPs, who face abuse and threats as a result of anti-Semitism”.

The charity carries out its own assessment of the individual security needs of anyone who asks for help. 

In parliament, in the wake of the election, MPs who lost their seats were provided with a space to speak to experienced staff about winding up their offices, and receive “practical and emotional support”, HuffPost UK was told.

Of the 79 politicians who were not re-elected, 72 were given “support” by parliamentary security and the remaining seven were contacted by the team.

A UK Parliament spokesperson said: “The members’ security support service provides members with personal security advice and has offered advice to former members as required.

“Responsibility for the security of members and former members away from the parliamentary estate rests with local police forces. We cannot comment on operational security matters.”

A Met Police spokesperson said the force “does not discuss matters of security”.