The Home Secretary has said security measures will be put in place to ensure MPs can continue to meet constituents safely following the murder of Conservative politician Sir David Amess.
A former minister called for face-to-face meetings to be suspended pending a security review after long-serving MP Sir David was fatally stabbed on Friday while meeting constituents at Belfairs Methodist Church in Leigh-on-Sea near Southend.
But Priti Patel said it is possible to strike a balance between the safety of MPs and carrying out the democratic process in-person, as she urged elected representatives not to be “cowed” by those threatening to “stop us from functioning”.
A number of MPs posted on social media about their constituency events on Saturday as they showed support for the Home Secretary’s message that political work must be able to continue in the open.
Ms Patel, who laid flowers at the site of Sir David’s killing alongside the Prime Minister, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer and Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle on Saturday morning, told broadcasters: “We are open to surgeries, doing our job. We will continue to do that.
“That is why there are measures under way right now – I convened meetings yesterday, I’ve been with the Speaker of the House, and with the police and our security services to make sure that all measures are being put in place for the security of MPs so that they can carry on with their duties as elected democratic members.”
Her comments come after Tobias Ellwood, a former Tory defence minister, said physical meetings with voters should be paused while MPs await the result of the Home Secretary’s call for police forces to review security arrangements.
Local police forces are contacting every MP to discuss their personal safety and the security of any events they plan to attend.
The chairman of the Commons Defence Committee, who was hailed as a hero for his attempts to save the life of Pc Keith Palmer during the Westminster terror attack, tweeted that there was “huge anxiety among MPs now”.
“Until the Home Secretary’s review of MP security is complete I would recommend a temporary pause in face-to-face meetings,” he said.
MP engagement with the public:
This is a vital part of our work -our accessibility with the public.
But understandable huge anxiety amongst MPs now.
Until the Home Secretary’s review of MP security is complete I would recommend a temporary PAUSE in face to face meetings. pic.twitter.com/TUgf5zYTQP
— Tobias Ellwood MP (@Tobias_Ellwood) October 16, 2021
But former Cabinet minister David Davis said suspending public meetings with MPs would be “a terrible reflection of what David stood for”.
He told Sky News: “Sure, we should be cautious, maybe we should do things to ensure the people who come to see us are bona fide, but I think actually pausing it would be a bad idea.
“It would be a terrible reflection of what David stood for – David himself was the ultimate constituency MP.”
Meanwhile, the longest continuously serving female MP, Harriet 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.
Surgery today, we must not let people force us to do things differently. David would not have wanted that. pic.twitter.com/pk14dYOdZ1
— Dr Kieran Mullan MP 🇬🇧 (@KieranMullanUK) October 16, 2021
“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.”
Former shadow home secretary Diane 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.