Police will not ban pro-Palestine protest on Armistice Day, Met chief says, as threshold for 'serious disorder' not met

7 November 2023, 22:22 | Updated: 8 November 2023, 09:17

Sir Mark Rowley says police don't have the power to shut down the protest as it stands
Sir Mark Rowley says police don't have the power to shut down the protest as it stands. Picture: Alamy

By Kit Heren

The head of the Met Police has said there is no law that he can use to stop the pro-Palestine march from taking place on Armistice Day.

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Thousands of marchers are expected to take to the streets in London again on Saturday to protest the war in Gaza and the thousands of civilian casualties.

This weekend's march will take place on Armistice Day, a day of quiet and solemn remembrance, which has upset many, including veterans.

Police have previously urged marchers not to hold the event this Saturday, while Rishi Sunak has said a protest on Armistice day would be "provocative and disrespectful".

Met commissioner Sir Mark Rowley said on Tuesday evening that the police are currently unable to ban the march because of a lack of intelligence that there will be serious disorder.

Organisers have said in mitigation that the march will take place in the Hyde Park area of London, about a mile from the Cenotaph, and it will come nearly two hours after the two-minute silence at 11am.

Speaking to LBC's Nick Ferrari during a regular edition of Call the Cabinet, Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer said it was right the Met assessed all the available intelligence.

"I do think it is wrong for criminal activity to take place," she said telling Nick she hoped the police would keep a ban "under review."

"I think that the police need to continue to look at intelligence and will look at conditions, I think that this is a very provocative event.

"What we're talking about this weekend is respecting those that have fought for our country, those who put their lives on the line. Service men and women who gave their lives for our country."

When Nick asked about reports groups of organised football hooligans could flock to London to "guard" the Cenotaph, Ms Frazer said it was the job of the police, not various groups.

"We already have plans in place to protect the Cenotaph," Culture Secretary Luzy Frazer told Nick Ferrari, adding "what we don't want to see is one group doing this, another doing that and taking responsibility into their own hands."

Culture Secretary says Met police should keep protests on Armistice Day under review

Supporters say that calls for a ceasefire in Gaza are in the spirit of the Armistice, which marked the end of the First World War.

Tens of thousands of pro-Palestine demonstrators in Trafalgar Square
Tens of thousands of pro-Palestine demonstrators in Trafalgar Square. Picture: Getty

But he added that police would do everything in their power to prevent disruption on Armistice day.

He said in a statement: "The events taking place this weekend are of great significance and importance to our nation. I completely recognise the significant public and political concern about the impact of ongoing protest and demonstrations on this moment of national reflection. Therefore I am determined we will do everything in our power to ensure they pass without disruption.

“The reason we have an independent police service is so that among debate, opinion, emotion and conflict, we stand in the centre, focused simply on the law and the facts in front of us.

“The laws created by Parliament are clear. There is no absolute power to ban protest, therefore there will be a protest this weekend.

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"The law provides no mechanism to ban a static gathering of people. It contains legislation which allows us to impose conditions to reduce disruption and the risk of violence, and in the most extreme cases when no other tactics can work, for marches or moving protests to be banned.

He added that there had been calls to use this power to ban the Palestine solidarity march on Saturday.

But he said that the use of the power was "incredibly rare", adding that it can be based on intelligence suggesting there will be serious disorder.

Sir Mark said there had been "an escalation of violence and criminality by small groups attaching themselves to demonstrations, despite some key organisers working positively with us.

Sir Mark Rowley
Sir Mark Rowley. Picture: Alamy

He added that "the intelligence surrounding the potential for serious disorder this weekend does not meet the threshold to apply for a ban.

“The organisers have shown complete willingness to stay away from the Cenotaph and Whitehall and have no intention of disrupting the nation’s remembrance events. Should this change, we’ve been clear we will use powers and conditions available to us to protect locations and events of national importance at all costs.

“Officers will continue to take swift and robust action against any breakaway groups or individuals intent on using legitimate, lawful protest for their own agenda through Saturday and Sunday.

“If over the next few days the intelligence evolves, and we reach a threshold where there is a real threat of serious disorder we will approach the Home Secretary. Right now, we remain focused on the facts in front of us and developing our plan to ensure the highest levels of protection for events throughout the weekend.

A pro-Palestine protest has been planned for Armistice Weekend
A pro-Palestine protest has been planned for Armistice Weekend. Picture: Alamy

The Met has already issued a statement calling for demonstrators to "postpone" this weekend's protest, as senior officers are concerned about "criminal acts" being carried out by "breakaway groups intent on fuelling disorder".

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Ade Adelekan said on Monday: "The risk of violence and disorder linked to breakaway groups is growing.

"This is of concern ahead of a significant and busy weekend in the capital.

"Our message to organisers is clear: Please, we ask you to urgently reconsider. It is not appropriate to hold any protests in London this weekend."

People inspect the rubble of buildings destroyed in Israeli airstrikes in Gaza City
People inspect the rubble of buildings destroyed in Israeli airstrikes in Gaza City. Picture: Alamy

It comes amid mounting pressure on the police force to cancel the protest, including from the Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who said the march should not go ahead.

Mr Sunak labelled plans for an Armistice Day protest as "provocative and disrespectful" and said there was a “clear and present risk that the Cenotaph and other war memorials could be desecrated".

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Meanwhile, the Home Secretary Suella Braverman called it "entirely unacceptable to desecrate Armistice Day with a hate march through London".

Sir Mark said: "If over the next few days the intelligence evolves further and we get to such a high threshold - it's only been done once in a decade - where we need to say to the home secretary we need to ban the march element, then of course we will do."

"But that's a last resort we haven't reached," he told the BBC.

Meanwhile, asked whether he believes pro-Palestinian marches should be allowed to take place on Saturday, Lord Soames - Winston Churchill's grandson and Tory Party grandee - told Andrew: "I think that a lot of people died during the war to assert freedom.

"And because you may not agree or disagree with their views and because it is very contentious and very difficult, it's going to put tremendous strain on the police, I think it must be allowed to go ahead. It's nowhere near the Cenotaph.

"It's in the afternoon and most of these people, 90% of those people are not there to make trouble.

"They're there to express a deeply held view. And I think it must be allowed to go ahead and I think it would be a great mistake to play politics with it."

Pro-Palestine activists have pledged to press on with the demonstration.

Raghad Altikriti of the Muslim Association of Britain said that the protest would go ahead on Saturday, telling LBC's Andrew Marr that if the official organising groups pulled out, more sinister "fringe" elements could launch their own march instead.

"We do have respect for Armistice Day," she said. "We are not marching on Remembrance Sunday... the banning of this protest would be dishonouring the memory of those who fought for freedom of speech, freedom of assembly."

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