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'We will go further if we need to': Foreign Secretary suggests law may change after Met allows 'jihad' chants at protest

23 October 2023, 19:14 | Updated: 23 October 2023, 19:21

James Cleverly (stock image) appeared on LBC's Tonight with Andrew Marr on Monday
James Cleverly (stock image) appeared on LBC's Tonight with Andrew Marr on Monday. Picture: Getty/Alamy/LBC
Kieran Kelly

By Kieran Kelly

The Foreign Secretary has suggested the Government is prepared to change the law on policing extremist propaganda after the Met allowed 'jihad' chants at a pro-Palestine protest.

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It comes after the Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley said his officers cannot "enforce taste and decency" after concerns were raised over why officers allowed the chants over the weekend.

Speaking on Monday, Rishi Sunak's spokesperson said there are currently no plans to change the law, but the Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said the Government will go further if it has to.

Speaking to LBC's Andrew Marr, Mr Cleverly said: "As I say, we have passed legislation which enables us to designate Hamas as a terrorist organisation and ban the glorification and promotion of Hamas.

"If we need to go further, of course, we will go further. And the Prime Minister of Home Secretary are both absolutely unequivocal on this - communities in the UK have the right to live without fear or intimidation."

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Mr Cleverly's comments come after Mr Rowley met with the Home Secretary Suella Braverman on Monday to discuss why the chants were allowed.

Ms Braverman is understood to have told Mr Rowley that “there can be no place for incitement to hatred or violence” and police “must crack down on anyone breaking the law”.

But the Commissioner has shrugged off criticism from the Home Secretary, insisting his officers cannot "enforce taste and decency".

Speaking after his meeting with Ms Braverman, the Commissioner said the law needed to be strengthened, particularly in relation to social media.

"I think the law we have designed around hate crime and terrorism in recent decades hasn't taken full account of the ability extremist groups to steer around those laws and propagate some pretty toxic messages through social media," Mr Rowley told Sky News.

"Those lines probably need redrawing. It's a really difficult thing to do. if you look at the counter extremism Commissioner report."

Sir Mark Rowley
Sir Mark Rowley. Picture: Getty

He continued: "It has many examples in there...one of the things we found is countries across the world which have different frameworks which have some advantages."

Read More: Met Police officer investigated for 'racially aggravated assault' after woman wrongly arrested over bus fare 'evasion'

Read more: Suella Braverman to challenge Met police after ‘jihad’ chant at London protest was allowed by officers

"For example, Hizb ut-Tahrir who were protesting at the weekend, some of their protests have caused deep concern...they are banned in Germany, they are also banned across most of the Muslim world."

He went on: "There are frameworks which are more assertive in some respects than ours."

“We are accountable for the law. We cannot enforce taste or decency but we can enforce the law," he added.

A protester carries a sign saying 'War Crime' as they march across London
A protester carries a sign saying 'War Crime' as they march across London. Picture: Getty

Despite concerns, officers will not be given new powers to police protests, Downing Street has insisted.

There are no plans to change the law because the Metropolitan Police already has "extensive powers" to deal with protests, No10's spokesperson said.

“Some of these scenes will have likely been incredibly distressing for people to witness, not least to the UK’s Jewish community who deserve to feel safe at what must be an incredibly traumatic time," Rishi Sunak's spokesperson said.

“We do believe the police have extensive powers in this space and we will continue to discuss with them so there is clarity and agreement about how they can be deployed on the ground.”

Asked whether there were plans to give police more powers, he said: "I'm not aware of any, no."

Ms Braverman is expected to challenge Sir Mark Rowley over the incident on Monday.
Ms Braverman is expected to challenge Sir Mark Rowley over the incident on Monday. Picture: Alamy

Police said specialist officers had reviewed clips of a man chanting "jihad, jihad" and signs and banners that referred to Muslim armies but said it did not identify any offences.

It added that "jihad" has "a number of meanings" while "there are varying interpretations" of what "Muslim armies" can refer to.

Sir Rowley defended his officers’ decision speaking to Ms Braverman on Monday and argue that the demonstrators could not have been prosecuted for their actions under existing legislation.

It comes after immigration minister Robert Jenrick said that the Met’s conclusion of the incident was “surprising” as he suggested they should have been met with the “full force of the law”.

Speaking to LBC’s Andrew Castle on Sunday morning, Mr Jenrick said: "I think a lot of people would find the Metropolitan Police analysis surprising and that's something we intend to raise with them and to discuss this incident with them."

He added: "I don't think that there's any place for chants of 'jihad' on the streets of Britain, I think that's totally unacceptable.

"In the context that was said yesterday, from what I've seen, that is an incitement to terrorist violence.

"Ultimately it's a decision for the police and the Crown Prosecution Service whether to take action, it's not for me to tell them what to do.

"Beyond the legality there is a question of values and I would hope there would be a consensus in this country that chanting 'jihad' on the streets of Britain is completely reprehensible and should not be allowed to continue."

Robert Jenrick calls cries of 'jihad' at Free Palestine march 'unacceptable'

Tens of thousands of people marched through the centre of London on Saturday and called for an end to Israel's attacks on Gaza.

Israel is bombarding the strip ahead of an expected ground invasion to destroy Hamas after the terror group massacred more than 1,000 people on October 7.

The demonstrators marched from Marble Arch to Parliament bearing Palestinian flags and green smoke devices.

Some were seen with signs bearing the controversial "rivers to the sea" slogan which some have deemed anti-Semitic.

The force said in a statement: "The word has a number of meanings but we know the public will most commonly associate it with terrorism.

"Specialist officers have assessed the video and have not identified any offences arising from the specific clip. We have also sought advice from specialist Crown Prosecution Service lawyers who have reached the same conclusion.

"However, recognising the way language like this will be interpreted by the public and the divisive impact it will have, officers identified the man involved and spoke to him to discourage any repeat of similar chanting.

"We are also aware of photos from the same protest showing signs and banners referring to 'Muslim armies'.

"While there are varying interpretations of what the language on the placards should be interpreted to mean, officers must take decisions based on the wording actually used.

"Again, this was subject to a careful assessment and no signs or banners were identified that were unlawful."

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