The deputy prime minister, Dominic Raab, has revealed he has received three threats “to life and limb” in two years that have resulted in police intervention.
Raab was speaking as politicians and the public struggle to come to terms with the killing of Sir David Amess, the Conservative MP for Southend West who was fatally attacked while meeting constituents in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, on Friday.
A 25-year-old man, understood to be Ali Harbi Ali, was arrested at the scene on suspicion of Amess’s killing and remains in police custody under terrorism legislation.
The prime minister is set to lead tributes to Amess in the House of Commons on Monday after his family urged people to be tolerant and “set aside hatred” in his memory.
Raab said he had had three threats to “life and limb” over the past two years.
He told BBC Breakfast: “There will be people who have worse abuse than me, and I particularly feel for the female MPs, and I know colleagues of mine who have come off, for example, Twitter because it’s just so vile.
“I have had three threats to life and limb over the last two years.”
He said those incidents “all resulted in an intervention”. Raab later told ITV’s Good Morning Britain that the most recent threat he had received was an acid attack. He said politicians deserved “maximum scrutiny” but added traditional and social media had a role to play in reducing hate.
“I think there has also been quite widespread vilification of politicians in the media,” he added.
“The constant – sometimes surreptitious, sometimes ostentatious – vilification of politicians creates the kind of climate in which these episodes take place.”
Appearing on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Eleanor Laing, a deputy speaker of the House of Commons, called for a “culture of kindness” between the public, politicians and media.
“Lots of people have talked about what a kind and gentle man David Amess was,” she said. “That’s absolutely right. He was cheerful, he was energetic, he was always courteous and extremely kind and thoughtful.
“What a pity that the media don’t say those things about more members of parliament while they’re still doing their job as a member of parliament rather than waiting until they’re not there anymore.
“It can be deeply upsetting when you know that MPs and ministers are working hard to solve one problem or other and when the matters are discussed in the media, MPs are vilified, ministers are spoken to very harshly and it does help to create a culture of aggression. Why can’t we just try and have a culture of kindness?”
Asked on Sky News if plainclothes police officers should be posted outside MPs’ constituency offices, Raab, the justice secretary, suggested private security guards would be made available.
“It depends on the individual, we’re more likely to look at things like private security guards … there’s already money available for that,” he said.
Raab said he personally would not want plainclothes officers outside his office because he would worry about the “chilling effect” and did not “want a wedge but between me and the people who elected me”.
However, he said he would not prevent another MP from doing so if that is what they wanted.
“No,” he said. “I can’t legislate and prescribe for every MP, anyone who has nervousness and concern, and the [police] force needs to sit down with them to provide objective security, that gives them peace of mind.”
Raab said since he became an MP in 2010 he had “been very conscious that the risk to us as representatives has increased particularly at the local level”.
The deputy prime minister said online activity had surged during the pandemic and while some of that was positive, such as communicating with family, there was “also a dark side to what happens online”.
“It magnified the positive but also some of the vulnerabilities,” he said.
Raab signalled he could support closing anonymous social media accounts to tackle online hatred but said he did not want to “send a message to tyrants all over the world that they can expose” campaigners who need anonymity.
He told Sky News: “On balance I think there is a case for really looking very carefully at this. I don’t see why people should be able to abuse the position on social media from a veil of anonymity.”
The Speaker of the Commons, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, will make a statement on Monday before Boris Johnson moves a motion for an adjournment, which will enable parliamentarians to open the tributes session, lasting until 5.30pm.