MPs’ Security: Should MPs have Bodyguards?
You would have to have been living under a rock not to notice the current public resentment and distrust towards our MPs, whether on social media or in the streets, people are angry and frustrated with them. Mainly due to Brexit, the current deadlock and the way some, if not all MPs have conducted themselves over the past 3 and a half years since the EU referendum in June 2016; when the UK voted by a 52% majority to leave the European Union.
Unfortunately, leading up to the referendum there was a lot of scaremongering, propaganda and of course ‘fake news’ from both leave and remain campaigns. And since the apparent shock result, project fear and project fantasy have been in full swing. The poor public, stuck in the middle frustrated with all the lies, bickering, backstabbing, lack of progress and details. Not to mention the immeasurable damage to the economy and jobs.
Meanwhile, in parliament, the house is as divided as public opinion on the matter, this has led to disgraceful behaviour and toxic language between MPs who are certainly as equally frustrated and angry at the current situation we find ourselves in. However, the electorate places the blame firmly at the feet of MPs for not honouring the referendum result and not representing their constituencies. Some MPs even switching parties and whole political parties going back on key policies they fought the last general election on – ‘honouring the referendum result and acting out the will of the people.’
This is infuriating voters and inflaming tensions between the public and politicians, with people mainly venting their anger online towards MPs, including death threats, but some are attacking their local offices, verbally abusing them in the streets and on public transport. It’s only a matter of time before a Member of Parliament is seriously injured or killed…again!
A recent history of deadly attacks against MPs:
1979 – Airey Neave, Conservative. Killed as the result of a car bomb departing the Parliament car park.
1984 – Sir Anthony Berry, Conservative. Killed as the result of a bomb at The Grand Hotel in Brighton, which was holding a Conservative party conference.
1990 – Ian Gow, Conservative. Killed as the result of a car bomb outside his home in East Sussex.
2000 – Lord Nigel Jones, Liberal Democrat. Survived an attack with a sword outside of his constituency surgery. His aide, Mr Andrew Pennington died as a result of his injuries from the attack.
2010 – Stephen Timms, Labour. Survived a knife attack outside his constituency surgery in East Ham, London.
2016 – Jo Cox, Labour. Killed as the result of 3 gunshot and 15 stab wounds on her way to meet her constituents at her local library in Birstall, West Yorkshire.
2019 has seen a vast increase in incidents and news coverage:
March – Labour MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle attacked and called ‘traitor’.
May – Conservative MP and leader of the House of Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg, had a bottle of water tipped over his head by a pro-EU protestor outside an event in London.
May – Neo-Nazi Jack Renshaw was jailed for plotting to murder Labour MP, Rosie Cooper.
September – Jo Swinson, Lib-Dem MP and party leader announced to Parliament that threats had been made towards her children.
September – Labour MP Jess Phillips received death threats via email and online.
October – Dawn Butler, Labour MP ‘terrorised on the tube’ after woman threatened to kill her.
October – Jacob Rees-Mogg, Conservative MP was escorted by police with his Son from Parliament to his home whilst being verbally attacked by pro-EU protestors.
November – Luke Pollard, Labour MP stepped up security in his Plymouth surgery for his staff in the run-up to the General Election due to graffiti attacks.
November – Man jailed for sending Labour MP Anna Soubry a letter suggesting he would murder her like Jo Cox.
November – Police advise Conservative MP, Ian Duncan Smith that he must hire a bodyguard on Election Day due to vandalism and credible online threats.
November – Former US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton speaks to the Met Police Commissioner, Cressida Dick about security for female MPs fearing for their safety after 18 of them announced that they would not run in the upcoming election as a result of online abuse and threats made towards their family.
Political Protection vs Public Opinion
It’s clear for all to see there is an increasing ever-present danger and threat towards MPs personal security and safety, amplified and exacerbated by the whole Brexit debacle. But some would argue it’s their own doing for not respecting the referendum result, not representing their constituents, going back on their election manifesto promises and their outrageous unprofessional behaviour in Parliament. They have treated the people with discontent and the people are outraged, this has led to a massive increase in attacks against MPs. And voters lack apathy with the majority saying the risk of violence towards MPs is justifiable.
That said, in our professional opinion MPs do require protection in the form of personal bodyguards, residential security, manned guarding and electronic security measures at their local offices and events. But who would pay for it and who would provide it?
Security for Politicians
The department in the British police force concerned with political security is the Metropolitan Police Protection Command. More specifically, close protection for MPs falls under the remit of Royalty and Specialist Protection (RaSP). However, we all know that the police are overstretched, undermanned and underfunded, even more so RaSP who are spread thinly all over the world protecting the ever-growing Royal Family, The Prime Minister and many visiting foreign dignitaries. So, who would protect our MPs?
Parliamentary and Diplomatic Protection (PaDP) are overtly armed, uniformed police officers predominantly tasked with guarding strategic government buildings, the Parliamentary estate and former Prime Minister’s homes. Standard beat officers are not trained in close protection, and with 650 MPs spread far and wide throughout the country, it would be a massive strain on police funding and resources to train more officers, taking them off the streets where they are needed most and deploying them in this role.
Could Private MP Protection Services be the Answer?
The natural solution would be to utilise the vast private security sector; with almost 15,000 licensed bodyguards in the UK, there are certainly enough people to cover all 650 MPs, tenfold, even around the clock if required! There are lots of ex-police and military close protection operatives that have the right training and experience to conduct this role and plug the gap where the police are unable to.
In fact, private security guards outnumber the police in the UK by almost 3:1. The private security industry is larger than the whole of the British Armed Forces (Army, Navy, RAF), Reservists and Police combined with almost 50,000 to spare!
There are 357,733 SIA licence holders, 123,200 police, 146,500 active military personnel and 36,430 volunteer reservists. (Dec 2019)
Private MPs Bodyguards
The above seasoned close protection experts from the police (RaSP) and military (Royal Military Police, Close Protection Unit & Special Forces) are in the very small minority, and hypothetically speaking; if they were employed in this role as a civilian, they would not be armed, they would not have police powers and they would not have the vast support services and assets that the police do. Such as vital up to date intelligence from the intelligence and security services, immediate backup and blue-light capabilities.
There are also vast varying standards throughout the private close protection industry, the above-seasoned professionals aside; many not only have zero close protection experience and zero security experience but also zero life or work experience to boot. Many have conducted free training courses organised and paid for by the jobcentre and various other back to work funding schemes. They have little to no knowledge or interest in the security industry, nor have they ever been tested under pressure in real life-threatening situations like the police and military have throughout their careers. You can almost guarantee they would buckle and fail at the first hint of danger.
Who Should Pay for MPs’ Security?
Despite increased attacks, spending on MPs security is down this financial year to £3.5m compared with £4.5m in 2017 – 2018. Pre-EU referendum, 2015 – 2016 it was just £170,576. But who should pay for said protection for MPs, Themselves? Their expenses? Ultimately, it would be the British taxpayer who foots the bill. The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) are set to agree funding for private security for concerned MPs, and we all still remember the expenses scandal don’t we! The public is already frustrated and angry with MPs, this could be counterproductive and add more fuel to the fire, driving further division between politicians and the public.
And How Much Would MP Protection Services Cost?
Westminster Security estimates that at a cost of around £250m a year to provide all MPs with close protection, it’s unlikely to ever happen or gain support from the public. However, we believe we are best placed to provide such services if required.
The Government have a duty of care towards Parliamentarians and professional bodyguards should be made available to those that feel they require them. Whether that’s private close protection or the police, whether you agree or disagree, politicians need protection before we see another avoidable murder!