Yesterday’s assault on cyclists and pedestrians outside the Palace of Westminster bears all the hallmarks of an Islamist terror attack. It is being reported that the home of the suspect, Salih Khater, is a ten-minute drive from the former one of Khalid Masood, shot dead in the vicinity last year. But until or unless his motives are confirmed it would be wrong to comment further, though this is a matter to which we expect to return.
However, it is not too early to write briefly about one aspect of the aftermath. Some cyclists complain that new security barriers protect pedestrians, but leave them exposed. Some MPs want part of Parliament Square pedestrianised. There is talk of closing streets. It would not be at all surprising were there calls, once again, to move Parliament out of the Palace of Westminster permanently. Suspicion that the authorities wish to do this drove resistance to the recent proposal, now approved, for MPs to decamp elsewhere for six years to help ensure that the Parliamentary estate can be refurbished.
There will always be more security work to be done at the Palace. But the hard truth is that there is no way in which it can be made terror-proof – not even were the estate turned into a fortess, a development that MPs themselves do not want. None the less, there is no public support for scooping up Parliamentarians, at vast expense to the taxpayer, and dumping them in some new purpose-built monstrosity (which wouldn’t be terror-immune either).
What Geoffrey Hill called “Barry’s and Pugin’s grand dark-lantern above the incumbent Thames” was built for a different age, in which the menace to those who worked in the estate was fire rather than terror (though, even then, a Prime Minister had been murdered in the Palace less than 25 years before). MPs had not then been joined by the mass of staff, Parliamentary and political, that is a feature of today’s political culture. Like visitors to the Palace, those who are simply within or near the vicinity, they too are at risk – no less than MPs and peers. But most of them recognise that it cannot be eliminated, at least without placing a steel curtain between Parliament and the people.