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UK justice minister steps down after death threats

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Conservative justice minister Mike Freer has announced he is stepping down as a member of parliament following death threats and a recent arson attack on his constituency office that he linked to his support for Israel.

The London MP said that persistent threats to his life and abuse had made his position untenable. Freer argued that his views on Israel and the Middle East had made him a target for abuse.

Downing Street said Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was “extremely saddened” by Freer’s decision to stand down at the next election, saying that the threats against him were “not just an attack on him but an attack on British democracy”.

In December last year, Freer’s office was set alight in an arson attack and he had previously spoken of wearing a stab vest in public due to fears around his personal safety.

“When you get a constant string of incidents, some of which threaten your life, there comes a point where you say enough is enough,” Freer told the BBC’s Today programme on Thursday. “The level of abuse I get for standing up for my constituents on antisemitism and Israel has to be a factor.”

Freer’s seat of North Finchley and Golders Green has the highest proportion of Jewish residents of any constituency in the country and he had previously faced protests from Islamist groups.

The Tory MP’s decision to step down follows a rising number of threats to politicians’ lives in recent years including several incidents that have ended in fatalities.

Sir David Amess, Conservative MP for Southend West, was stabbed to death in 2021 by a “fanatical terrorist” who had previously scouted out Freer’s office. Jo Cox, Labour MP for Batley and Spen, was murdered by a right-wing extremist in 2016.

“It was only after he was arrested after killing Sir David that obviously the police completed their full investigation and discovered he’d been to Finchley several times,” Freer said.

In a letter to his local Conservative association, Freer wrote that it “will be an enormous wrench to step down”, but that the attacks “have weighed heavily on me and my husband”.

He said that constant threats were “not fair on our families” and he had personally been forced to “evaluate” whether he should continue in office.

The MP won his seat in the 2019 general election with a majority of 6,562 votes against the Liberal Democrats’ Luciana Berger.

Sir Lindsay Hoyle, speaker of the House of Commons, told ITV that he was “saddened” by the decision and that ensuring MPs’ safety had become a “big challenge” and he would work with security and the police to ensure members were safe.

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