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Suella Braverman accused of stoking tensions over Palestine protest, as she hits back at police for ‘playing favourites’
8 November 2023, 23:20 | Updated: 9 November 2023, 00:06
Suella Braverman has been accused of stirring-up far-right sentiment with comments about the pro-Palestine protest planned for Armistice Day this Saturday.
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A former top police officer and senior Conservatives said the Home Secretary had gone too far with her description of protests as "hate marches".
But Ms Braverman hit back on Wednesday evening, saying that the marches were "problematic" and represented "an assertion of primacy" by extremists.
She also said there was a "perception that senior police officers play favourites when it comes to protesters".
The November 11 march, on which protesters will again call for a ceasefire in Gaza, has been controversial because it coincides with the day of solemn remembrance for Britain's war dead.
The demonstrators will not go past the Cenotaph in Whitehall and the march will take place after the two-minute silence at 11am.
Concerns have been raised that the march could attract far-right protesters and descend into violence.
But police chief Sir Mark Rowley has said that his force does not have enough intelligence that there will be serious disorder to ban the protest.
Rishi Sunak has said that the march is "disrespectful" but that it should go ahead because of the freedom to protest enjoyed by people living in the UK.
Ms Braverman said earlier this week that some elements of the protests that have taken place every Saturday since October 14 had turned into "hate marches".
Conservative former attorney general Dominic Grieve said that the Home Secretary's comments about the march were inappropriate.
He told LBC's Ben Kentish: "She is under a duty as home secretary in the minister of the crown, to uphold people's lawful rights, which includes people's lawful rights to demonstrate peacefully and within the law.
"And the fact that she may personally dislike the nature of the demonstration, or indeed many others in government might also dislike the nature of the demonstration isn't the issue.
"The issue is can this demonstration take place pieces peaceably? And has it been properly organised? Those are questions for the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, not for her."
Mr Grieve added: "Of course, the police do have a duty to make sure that those marches are within the law and are not used as a vehicle for hate speech or anti-Semitism.
"But the nature of these demonstrations, even if you might think they're misplaced, are perfectly legitimate, namely, to raise people's concerns about the numbers of civilians being killed in Gaza or for that matter to call for a ceasefire.
"These are not unlawful things for people to seek, even if some people might think that they're mistaken in doing it, and therefore to translate her duty as Home Secretary, which is to uphold the rule of law, including the right of people under the rule of law to demonstrate peacefully, with her own personal views is plainly wrong."
Conservative former housing minister Gavin Barwell said that Ms Braverman was "retoxifying" the Conservative party with her comments.
Baroness Warsi, a Conservative peer, said Ms Braverman "had lit the touch paper and ignited community tensions" with her remarks.
"Couching the planned demonstration as 'armistice day vs a hate march,' she has pitched community against community and set a noisy call for peace against a quiet moment of reflection to mark the war," Baroness Warsi wrote in the Evening Standard.
Meanwhile Neil Basu, the Met's former assistant commissioner, said that rhetoric from Ms Braverman may be serving to incite violence, despite only a "small minority" of people attending pro-Palestinian marches being "extremist".
He told LBC's Andrew Marr on Wednesday: "We've already heard that Tommy Robinson, the EDL, football hooligans [are going to counter-protest].
Ex-Met Commissioner Assistant says pressuring Mark Rowley to ban the protest could be 'unlawful act'
He added: "Now, the thing about the rhetoric of hate marches is, if I look at the number of arrests that have been made in the marches to date, against the number of people who have marched, I'm not sure on the maths on this, and I don't know the exact arrest figures, or the exact marches figures, but it might be the first time there is a literal translation of the expression that 99.99% of people who are marching have done nothing wrong…
Mr Basu said: there's a couple of very obvious things anyone talking about this subject should say, Hamas are terrorists. Hamas committed an inexcusable atrocity on the 7th of October, but 99.99% of people in those marches, they're not supporting Hamas or a terrorist organisation.
"There may well be a few extremists or a few people glorifying terrorism, and the police should deal with those, and my understanding is they are dealing with those. But as a percentage of the march, it's tiny, and policing has to be able to deal with that in a liberal democracy to allow protests to go ahead."
The protests have been going in London every Saturday since Hamas killed 1,400 people in Israel in a terror attack, and Israel responded. More than 10,000 people in Gaza have been killed in Israel's retaliatory bombardments and ground invasion of the territory.
The protesters are calling for a ceasefire, which Hamas has said it would not respect. Neither the British government nor the Labour party have advocated for a ceasefire, calling instead for 'humanitarian pauses' to help aid get into the strip and to try and free some of the 240 people Hamas took hostage in its terror attack.
The debate over whether or not Palestine activists should march on Armistice Day brings into focus the balance of civil liberties and respect for the British war dead. The previous marches have been loud and passionate, whereas Armistice Day is traditionally a solemn occasion of remembrance.
Police have been forced to make more than 100 arrests at the pro-Palestine marches in London, including some for anti-Semitic chanting. Two women who wore paraglider stickers in an apparent reference to the Hamas attacks were arrested on suspicion of inviting support for a proscribed organisation.
Others have been seen calling for 'jihad' and 'intifada'.
Although the Met has said it cannot ban the protest, it did ask organisers to postpone. They declined.
Mr Sunak spoke with Sir Mark on Wednesday to discuss the police response to the protest, emerging afterwards to say that although it should go ahead, the march "offends our heartfelt gratitude to the memory of those who gave so much so that we may live in freedom and peace today".
Ms Braverman said in an article in the Times published on Wednesday evening: "From the start, these events have been problematic, not just because of violence around the fringes but because of the highly offensive content of chants, posters and stickers.
"This is not a time for naiveté. We have seen with our own eyes that terrorists have been valorised, Israel has been demonised as Nazis and Jews have been threatened with further massacres.
"Each weekend has been worse than the previous one. Last Saturday, in central London, police were attacked with fireworks, train services were brought to a halt by demonstrators and poppy sellers were mobbed and prevented from raising funds for veterans.
"Now as we approach a particularly significant weekend in the life of our nation, one which calls for respect and commemoration, the hate marchers — a phrase I do not resile from — intend to use Armistice Day to parade through London in yet another show of strength."
Ms Braverman wrote that she does not believe that these marches "are merely a cry for help for Gaza", adding that "they are an assertion of primacy by certain groups — particularly Islamists — of the kind we are more used to seeing in Northern Ireland.
"Also disturbingly reminiscent of Ulster are the reports that some of Saturday’s march group organisers have links to terrorist groups, including Hamas."
She added that police must deal with all kinds of protesters "even-handedly" but claimed that the Met showed double standards between their approaches to left- and right-wing protesters.
Ms Braverman claimed that "there is a perception that senior police officers play favourites when it comes to protesters. During Covid, why was it that lockdown objectors were given no quarter by public order police yet Black Lives Matters demonstrators were enabled, allowed to break rules and even greeted with officers taking the knee?
"Right-wing and nationalist protesters who engage in aggression are rightly met with a stern response yet pro-Palestinian mobs displaying almost identical behaviour are largely ignored".
She said that "if the march goes ahead this weekend, the public will expect to see an assertive and proactive approach to any displays of hate, breaches of conditions and general disorder."