'Our democracy is under threat', Rishi Sunak says, as he claims streets are being ‘hijacked’ by extremists

1 March 2024, 17:59 | Updated: 7 March 2024, 21:27

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak condemned extremism in a speech on Friday evening.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak condemned extremism in a speech on Friday evening. Picture: Alamy

By Kit Heren

Rishi Sunak has warned that British streets are being hijacked by small, "hostile" groups, as he claimed that extremists are seeking to undermine democracy.

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Giving an address outside Downing Street on Friday evening, Mr Sunak said Britain had seen a "shocking increase in extremist disruption and criminality" in recent weeks and months.

His comments came ahead of pro-Palestine protests which are set to continue across the country on Saturday.

Several MPs have said they have felt threatened by protesters, and Parliament descended into chaos after Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle said he broke with convention because of security fears.

Earlier this week the Home Secretary announced a £31m package to boost security measures for MPs.

"What started as protests on our street has descended into intimidation, threats and planned acts of violence," he said.

"Jewish children fearful to wear their school uniform lest it reveal their identity.

"Muslim women abused in the street for the actions of a terrorist group they have no connection with. Now our democracy itself is a target, saying that MPs don't feel safe at home.

Read more: ‘Galloway only won because Labour didn’t stand’: Keir Starmer vows to fight back in Rochdale at general election

Read more: 'We must take action now': The current discussions on MP safety need to be expanded to candidates too

Rishi Sunak addresses the media on Downing Street
Rishi Sunak addresses the media on Downing Street. Picture: Alamy

Mr Sunak also addressed the election of George Galloway, saying it demands a response.

The Prime Minister said that "it was beyond alarming that last night the Rochdale by-election returned a candidate who dismisses the horror of what happened on 7 October".

Mr Galloway said in response: "I abhor extremism just as much as he does (Mr Sunak) and that’s why I’m wearing a hat, because I was savagely assaulted whilst an MP in 2014, in a politically motivated assault, which hospitalised me and saw the assailant jailed for 20 months. So I’m as much against extremism and violence as anyone else and probably a little more so given my, my personal experience."

He added: "I also agreed with him when he said that change can only come through the democratic process. I’ve just spent four weeks on the streets of Rochdale, in the democratic process. The returning officer, a man of unimpeachable integrity one assumes, declared it last night, as a free and fair election."

New Rochdale MP George Galloway on what he would say to Keir Starmer 'in the toilets of Parliament'

Mr Sunak said: "Our streets have been hijacked by small groups who are hostile to our values," Mr Sunak said.

"Threats of violence and intimidation are alien to our way of doing things," he went on.

Islamist extremists and far-right are two sides of the same coin, he said, noting that neither respect democracy. They are "spreading a poison," he said.

But he said that Islam is "emphatically not the same thing" as Islamism.

He said that extremism "aims to drain us of our confidence in ourselves as a people and in our shared future".

"They want to destroy confidence and hope. We must not allow that to happen."

He added: "No country is perfect, but I am enormously proud of the good that our country has done".

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Mr Sunak added: "We must be prepared to stand up for our shared values in all circumstances, no matter how difficult" in the face of divisions. 

"The time has now come for us all to stand together to combat the forces of division and beat this poison.

"We must face down the extremists who would tear us apart."If we do that, we can build on our great achievement in creating today's Britain, a country of kind decent, tolerant people.

The Prime Minister said: "We can make this a country in which we all feel a renewed sense of pride. This is our home. 

"So let us go forward together, confident in our values and confident in our future."

It comes amid growing fears about the safety of MPs in recent months, particularly over concerns they could be targeted by extremists.

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".

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 of those killings.

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