Rishi Sunak seeking ‘further reassurances’ ahead of planned pro-Palestine demonstration on Armistice Day

8 November 2023, 13:52

Rishi Sunak has said he will hold the Metropolitan Police Commissioner "accountable"
Rishi Sunak has said he will hold the Metropolitan Police Commissioner "accountable". Picture: Alamy

By Asher McShane

Rishi Sunak has said he will hold the Metropolitan Police Commissioner "accountable" for his decision to greenlight a "disrespectful" pro-Palestinian demonstration to take place on Armistice Day.

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The Prime Minister's official spokesman said today: "We want to seek further reassurances that remembrance events will not be affected and the public will be kept safe.

"Our focus is on seeking assurances that the approach will be robust.

"We will always ensure police powers are suitable to do that. They will be keeping the intelligence picture under review and we would expect them to keep testing that and use all existing powers.

"We would be concerned about any illegal activity of any sort. We do believe there is a risk [of violence] which is why we need to ensure the plan to keep people safe is robust."

Police Officers clash with rival supporters as protesters walk past the Cenotaph on Whitehall during a pro-Palestine march organised by Palestine Solidarity Campaign in central London last month
Police Officers clash with rival supporters as protesters walk past the Cenotaph on Whitehall during a pro-Palestine march organised by Palestine Solidarity Campaign in central London last month. Picture: Alamy

"It is the PM's view that those protesting on Armistice Day are completely inappropriate, it's provocative and disrespectful and he urges organisers to reconsider."

The Prime Minister will meet Sir Mark Rowley to discuss the issue later on Wednesday.

It comes a day after Sir Mark resisted pressure heaped on the force by politicians including Mr Sunak to try to block the protest calling for a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip in London on Saturday.

Sunak to hold Met Commissioner ‘accountable’ for giving go-ahead to Gaza rally

He said intelligence surrounding the potential for serious disorder this weekend does not meet the threshold to apply to prohibit the march.

Speaking to broadcasters during a visit to a school in Lincolnshire, the Prime Minister said: "This is a decision that the Metropolitan Police Commissioner has made.

"He has said that he can ensure that we safeguard remembrance for the country this weekend as well as keep the public safe.

"Now, my job is to hold him accountable for that.

"We've asked the police for information on how they will ensure that this happens. I'll be meeting the Metropolitan Police Commissioner later today to discuss this.

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Read more: 'Very provocative' Armistice Day pro-Palestine protest must be kept 'under review' Culture Secretary tells LBC

"More broadly, my view is that these marches are disrespectful and that's what I'll be discussing with the Police Commissioner later today."

In a statement on Tuesday, Sir Mark said: "The laws created by Parliament are clear. There is no absolute power to ban protest, therefore there will be a protest this weekend."

He added that use of the power to block moving protests is "incredibly rare" and must be reserved for cases where there is intelligence to suggest a "real threat" of serious disorder.

He said organisers of Saturday's rally 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."

The Met chief is likely to come under significant pressure to change his mind in the coming days, with Cabinet ministers stressing that discussions are ongoing.

Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer, who is Jewish, called for the force to keep the "very provocative" march "under review".

She told LBC: "I think that the police need to, and have said that they will, continue to look at intelligence and will impose conditions.

"And they've already set out where events will take place, but I think they should keep it under review."

The Met had urged march organisers to "urgently reconsider" the event on Saturday because of a growing risk of violence, but the pro-Palestinian coalition behind it have refused to call it off.

The force could request the power to ban the event under Section 13 of the Public Order Act 1986, but that would only apply if there was the threat of serious public disorder which could not be controlled by other measures.

The coalition of groups, which includes the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Stop the War and the Muslim Association of Britain, insisted they will press ahead with the demonstration calling for an immediate ceasefire between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.

There are concerns that breakaway groups from the main march could look for trouble, while counter-demonstrations may add to policing difficulties.

Asked about a call to arms by groups of football hooligans to protect the Cenotaph, Ms Frazer urged them to refrain from "taking responsibility into their own hands", saying: "What I do not want to see is any escalation of violence across the board".

The planned route for the London march goes from Hyde Park - about a mile from the war memorial in Whitehall - to the US embassy in Vauxhall, south of the Thames.

The Festival of Remembrance at the Royal Albert Hall, which will be attended by the King and Queen and other members of the royal family, will take place on Saturday.

Remembrance Sunday events will take place at the Cenotaph in Westminster the following day.

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