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MPs open up about abuse and threats following Amess killing

Police arrest a man on suspicion of sending a death threat to Labour MP Chris Bryant

by Our parliamentary reporter @TrinderMatt

SEVERAL MPs spoke out today about the abuse and threats they have received for doing their job, with Rhondda’s Chris Bryant reporting that he received a death threat in the wake of the killing of Sir David Amess.

The Labour MP said he found the message last weekend after he returned from an official trip to Qatar. It had been led by Sir David, who was killed at a constituency surgery last Friday.

“I got back on Saturday and the first message in my inbox was this death threat, pretty clear, so I notified the police and they have taken action,” Mr Bryant said.

A South Wales Police spokeswoman confirmed that a 76-year-old man from Bridgend had been arrested on suspicion of sending malicious communications. 

Mr Bryant said that abuse in British politics has recently worsened. He said that his constituency office had been targeted by anti-vaccine protesters in the last year and that the year before it was daubed with the word “traitor” over Brexit.

Labour’s shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said he didn’t know an MP who had not received a death threat for doing their job.

The warnings came before a minute’s silence and an afternoon of tributes in the Commons to Sir David, the Tory MP for Southend West in Essex.

A 25-year-old suspect, understood to be Ali Harbi Ali, was arrested at the scene of his fatal stabbing – Belfairs Methodist Church in Leigh-on-Sea – and remains in police custody after being detained under the Terrorism Act 2000.

Sir David’s widow Julia and other family members visited the church today and read messages on floral tributes. 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who told MPs that the House had lost “a steadfast servant and dear friend and colleague,” revealed that Southend will be granted city status in honour of Sir David, who was a lifelong campaigner on the issue.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said that each tribute to the slain MP painted a picture of a “committed public servant, of kindness and of a man whose decency touched everybody.”

Earlier, Justice Secretary Dominic Raab told BBC Breakfast of having received at least three threats on “life and limb” in the past two years, with the latest being of an acid attack.

But Mr Raab said that colleagues, particularly women, have received even worse abuse.

Labour’s Tulip Siddiq said that her job has had a “constant effect” on her family since she was first elected in 2015.

The Hampstead and Kilburn MP told the BBC that abuse received online can range from “very trivial things,” such as comments on her appearance, to threats against her or her relatives. 

She recalled the murder of fellow Labour MP Jo Cox in 2016, saying that her own mother called her immediately after hearing about the attack “because her first thought was it must have been me.”

SNP MP Joanna Cherry revealed she had contemplated quitting politics altogether because of “unrelenting attacks” against her on social media.

She told the Daily Record newspaper that, following the killing of Sir David, there is a need to “consider whether MPs can continue to meet total strangers at vulnerable locations such as libraries and church halls.”

In response, Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle said that politics needed to be safer, but also discussed the extensive protections around his US counterpart and warned against a “knee-jerk reaction.”

“Do I want to be like [US House speaker Nancy Pelosi], who can’t go anywhere without armed police? Is that a life I want? No,” he told ITV’s Good Morning Britain.

In a statement, Downing Street said that “everything possible” will be done to ensure that MPs can work safely.

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