LONDON — UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Thursday said a lawmaker who represents a mainly Jewish area had effectively been hounded out of office after he announced he would not seek re-election.
Conservative MP Mike Freer’s decision not to stand again in an election expected this year comes amid a surge in antisemitic incidents since the start of the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza.
Freer, 63, is not Jewish, but his Finchley and Golders Green constituency in north London is home to one of the country’s biggest Jewish communities.
Locals say they have been subject to verbal abuse by some pro-Palestinian supporters since the October 7 terror onslaught carried out by Hamas in southern Israel and the subsequent war against the terror group in Gaza.
In a letter to his local constituency group, published online late on Wednesday, Freer said he has had “several serious threats” to his personal safety, including an arson attack on his office.
Speaking to reporters Thursday, Sunak stressed that, “No elected representative deserves to be abused or intimidated and the attacks and abuse that Mike Freer references are clearly deeply distressing.”
“They’re not just an attack on him but an attack on British democracy… people are free to debate issues passionately and have robust debate. Intimidation and abuse is simply unacceptable,” he added.
Since Freer was first elected in 2010, he has been targeted by Muslims Against Crusades, a radical Islamist group that the UK government banned as a terror organization in 2011.
Freer told the Daily Mail in an interview on Thursday that the group had first threatened him the same year it had been defined as a terror organization, posting a photo of him online with the caption “Let Stephen Timms be a warning to you,” referring to a Labour MP who had been stabbed by an al-Qaeda supporter a year earlier.
In a separate incident, members of the group interrupted an event Freer was holding at a local Mosque, calling him a “Jewish homosexual pig.”
The targeted harassment he has endured over the years, combined with the October 2021 murder of fellow Conservative MP David Amess by an Islamic State follower, has placed “intolerable stress” on his husband and wider family, Freer wrote.
Amess’s killer Ali Harbi Ali, who is currently serving life in prison, had visited Freer’s constituency office a month prior, but the lawmaker was not there.
Freer told the Daily Mail that the arson attack in his office on December 24 was “the final straw.”
“Obviously your husband or your family’s views have to carry a lot of weight. And when someone worries that, ‘Are you going to come home at night,’ you have to take that seriously,” he said, adding that his husband had become “incredibly jittery” at the thought of him being outside alone.
A man and a woman appeared in court on Thursday in relation to the arson attack on Freer’s office and are scheduled to stand trial later this year. Police say they are not treating it as a hate crime.
Freer told the Mail that hostility towards members of Parliament was “par for the course” but added: “You shouldn’t really have to think, ‘Am I going to survive the day?'”
He has previously stated that he and a number of other MPs now wear stab vests when meeting constituents.
In addition to the murder of Amess in 2021 and the attack on Timms in 2010, Labour MP Jo Cox was killed in a combined shooting and stabbing attack carried out by neo-Nazi Thomas Mair in 2016.
House of Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle has promised to improve safety for MPs, and told ITV on Thursday: “We all get death threats. But Mike really has been targeted.”
He also urged lawmakers to “turn down the heat.”
“People reflect how we treat each other, and that’s why I want us to have a nicer politics within the House,” he told Sky News.
Freer was first elected as the MP for Finchley and Golders Green in 2010, and has been reelected in every election since. While he isn’t Jewish himself, a 2021 census showed that over 50 percent of Golders Green’s population is Jewish and over 30% of Finchley’s is as well.
He told The Daily Mail that he believes his stance on Israel to be the reason he has been targeted so frequently over the years, saying that while he’s a “strong supporter of the two-state solution” and isn’t uncritical of Israel, he does “support the Israeli government on the eradication of Hamas, very firmly and very robustly.”
Freer is a member of Conservative Friends of Israel. In 2014, he resigned as parliamentary secretary so he could vote “No” on a non-binding resolution to recognize the state of Palestine.
At the time, Freer said the two-state solution “should be the end, not the start of the process.”