'There are forces trying to tear us apart': PM speech attacks extremism and threats to democracy

The PM warned democracy is at risk from extremist 'poison', ITV News reporter Amy Lewis and Political Correspondent Carl Dinnen report

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak warned “our democracy itself is a target” for extremists and that “there are forces here at home trying to tear us apart” as he addressed the nation from Downing Street.

Speaking at a lectern outside the doors of No 10 on Friday, Mr Sunak warned about the current situation in Britain in the aftermath of the October 7 attacks by Hamas against Israel.

The PM said "what started as protests on our streets has descended into intimidation, threats, and planned acts of violence", referring to pro-Palestine protests.

Mr Sunak announced vague details of a plan to tackle extremism, revealing that "if those here on visas choose to spew hate on protests, or seek to intimidate people" the government will "remove their right to be here".

He also announced the government will "redouble" support for the Prevent programme, "demand universities stop extremist activity on campuses", and "act to prevent people entering this country whose aim it is to undermine its values".

Downing Street will set out more details on the new policy on extremism in the next week.

There have been fears about MPs being targeted and intimidated by demonstrators in recent months, particularly by those demanding action to bring an end to the fighting in Gaza.

The PM criticised the results of the Rochdale by-election in his speech, after controversial figure George Galloway won, running on a pro-Palestinian ticket.

"Last night the Rochdale by-election returned a candidate who dismisses what happened on October 7, who glorifies Hezbollah, and is endorsed by Nick Griffin, the racist former leader of the BNP", he said.

George Galloway said Rishi Sunak’s comments about him dismissing the Hamas attacks were "completely false".

He told ITV News: "I have never downplayed the horror of what happened on October 7", saying he has acknowledged the horrors many times.

"The prime minister and Keir Starmer got the mother of all beatings in the election last night, and it would seem they're finding it hard to come to terms with", he said.

Mr Galloway said he "will fight whoever" Labour put up against him at the general election, "and beat them".

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the prime minister is "right to advocate unity" and to "condemn the unacceptable and intimidatory behaviour that we have seen recently".

"It is an important task of leadership to defend our values and the common bonds that hold us together.

"Citizens have a right to go about their business without intimidation and elected representatives should be able to do their jobs and cast their votes without fear or favour. This is something agreed across the parties and which we should all defend.”

Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle cited security concerns as a reason for his decision to overturn parliamentary convention by granting a vote on a Labour amendment to an SNP Gaza ceasefire motion last week.

In a speech to police bosses on Wednesday night, the PM warned of a "growing consensus that mob rule is replacing democratic rule", remarks which sparked backlash from a number of human rights groups.

Police leaders were brought to Downing Street to discuss concerns about protests in the wake of the Hamas attacks on 7 October.

The PM told police: "We simply cannot allow this pattern of increasingly violent and intimidatory behaviour which is, as far as anyone can see, intended to shout down free debate and stop elected representatives doing their job."

"I am going to do whatever it requires to protect our democracy and our values that we all hold dear", he said.

The campaign in Rochdale was beset by controversy and claims of intimidation and divisive tactics.

Reform UK candidate, former Rochdale MP Simon Danczuk, said there were “lots of examples of intimidation” during the campaign.

He told Times Radio: “We spent a lot of time dealing with intimidation and significant problems that clearly came from Galloway’s supporters.”

Mr Danczuk, once represented the seat for Labour but was barred from standing for the party in 2017 after he admitted sending “inappropriate” messages to a 17-year-old girl.

Reform UK’s leader Richard Tice claimed his candidate had received a death threat during the campaign and said his party’s campaign team had been subject to “daily intimidation and slurs”.

Independent candidate William Howarth agreed that there had been an “element of intimidation” during the campaign.

Concerns about extremism were also inflamed last weekend after comments from Lee Anderson, Suella Braverman, and Liz Truss.

Former Tory deputy chair Lee Anderson was suspended from the Tory party after he said "Islamists" had "got control" of the London Mayor Sadiq Khan, Suella Braverman said in an article for the Telegraph newspaper that "Islamists... are in charge" of Britain, and Liz Truss stayed silent in an interview when Steve Bannon praised far-right Tommy Robinson as a "hero".

There have been a number of incidents where MPs felt threatened in recent months.

Conservative backbencher Tobias Ellwood’s home was targeted earlier this month by pro-Palestine protesters, with the police warning his family to “stay away” from the property as “arriving through that crowd would’ve antagonised the situation”.

Tory MP Mike Freer announced he was stepping down earlier this month because of safety fears, after an arson attack on his office.

He revealed he and his staff had decided to wear stab vests when attending scheduled public events in his constituency, after learning that Ali Harbi Ali had watched his Finchley office before going on to knife Sir David Amess to death during a constituency surgery in 2021.

Last Friday there were also four arrests in Stoke-on-Trent after pro-Palestine demonstrators disrupted a Conservative fundraising event.

Labour MP Dawn Butler told ITV News on Wednesday she 'contacts the police on a regular basis' because of safety fears.

The family homes of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer have also been set upon by environmental protesters in past months.

Two serving MPs - Labour’s Jo Cox and Conservative Sir David Amess - have been murdered in the past eight years, with reforms to the security of parliamentarians having been introduced as a result.

The government announced a £31 million package to bolster protection for MPs on Wednesday.

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The package will fund enhanced police capabilities, increase private sector security provisions for those facing a higher risk and expand cyber security advice to locally elected representatives.

A report from the home affairs committee on Tuesday said regular protests in central London are placing too much pressure on police resources and putting other policing priorities at risk.

The committee found more than £25 million has been spent on policing pro-Palestinian protests since the October 7 attacks and December 17, recommending the government consider increasing the minimum notice period for a protest to six days to enable police to better prepare.

After the result was announced in the Rochdale by-election, Mr Galloway bellowed "Keir Starmer, this is for Gaza."

The Labour party had previously resisted pressure to call for a ceasefire in Gaza, but last week changed their stance to call for an "immediate humanitarian ceasefire".

The government, however, currently calls for an "immediate humanitarian pause".