A furious row has erupted over a pro-Palestinian march in London on Armistice Day which Rishi Sunak said would present a “clear and present risk that the Cenotaph and other war memorials could be desecrated”.
The Prime Minister has asked Home Secretary Suella Braverman to support the Met Police “in doing everything necessary to protect the sanctity of Armistice Day and Remembrance Sunday”.
Organisers of the demonstration say they have no plans for it to go near the Cenotaph.
But, writing on X, formerly known as Twitter, Mr Sunak said: “To plan protests on Armistice Day is provocative and disrespectful, and there is a clear and present risk that the Cenotaph and other war memorials could be desecrated, something that would be an affront to the British public and the values we stand for.
“The right to remember, in peace and dignity, those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice for those freedoms must be protected.
“I have asked the Home Secretary to support the Met Police in doing everything necessary to protect the sanctity of Armistice Day and Remembrance Sunday.”
My statement on the disrespectful protests planned for Armistice Day. pic.twitter.com/bik539rDqn
— Rishi Sunak (@RishiSunak) November 3, 2023
Earlier, a furious row erupted between Sadiq Khan and security minister Tom Tugendhat over whether a pro-Palestinian demonstration should be prevented from going through Whitehall on Armistice Day.
While Match of the Day presenter Gary Lineker also weighed into the row as he backed the pro-Palestine protesters.The former England footballer posted his support for protesters online after Suella Braverman, the Home Secretary, said the march risked causing offence to millions of “decent British people”.Mrs Braverman said: “It is entirely unacceptable to desecrate Armistice Day with a hate march through London. If it goes ahead, there is an obvious risk of serious public disorder, violence and damage, as well as giving offence to millions of decent British people.”
But responding to her comments, Lineker wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter: “Marching and calling for a ceasefire and peace so that more innocent children don’t get killed is not really the definition of a hate march.”
Former soldier Mr Tugendhat said such a march through Whitehall would not be “appropriate" and stressed he had written to the Mayor of London, Westminster City Council and Met Police Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley about it.
But Mr Khan accused the minister of "playing politics" as the Mayor, he stressed, did not have the power to stop the protest.
He also urged people considering protesting on Armistice Day to "understand the importance of that weekend to our entire country".
Tens of thousands of demonstrators calling for an immediate ceasefire in Israel’s attacks on Gaza are planning to take to the streets of London on Armistice Day on Saturday November 11.
There are fears the march could disrupt the two-minute silence commemorating the war dead, and the daytime and evening Festival of Remembrance at the Royal Albert Hall, with the latter performance usually attended by members of the royal family.
“For me and fellow veterans, 11th of November is not just another day, it’s not just even a day of remembrance, it’s a day of grief,” Mr Tugendhat told Times Radio.
“For many of us it’s a day when we remember friends who are not standing with us anymore, some who fell at the time and some who sadly have taken their own life since.
“It can be a very painful moment and I think that is why this is not an appropriate time, this is not an appropriate venue for protest.
“It’s a time for us to come together and to remember all those who served our country with courage and distinction in many conflicts around the world and gave us the freedoms and liberties that we are lucky enough to enjoy today.”
Mr Tugendhat later told BBC Breakfast: “I do not think that a protest on Remembrance weekend, next to the Cenotaph, is appropriate.”
The minister is understood not to be opposed to a march in another part of the capital on November 11, but does not believe it should be near the Cenotaph and that those who wish to pay their respects should be able to do so unhindered.
Speaking on LBC Radio, Mr Tugendhat stressed: “The Cenotaph is sacred ground…for the whole country and at various points in the year that becomes only more so.
“Remembrance weekend is one of those moment where we all feel that it’s a moment, a place, a cause that brings the whole country together.
“At a time when many people are feeling divided, that is only more important.”
We're aware of media reporting and social media commentary suggesting next weekend's remembrance events could be disrupted by protest.
As we set out in the update below, we will do everything in our power to ensure this does not happen. pic.twitter.com/dwfQzvlIlz
— Metropolitan Police (@metpoliceuk) November 2, 2023
However, Mr Tugendhat’s comments quickly sparked a row with City Hall over banning such a demonstration.
Mr Khan said: "This is a textbook example of a senior politician playing party politics and posturing, with a serious issue. He must know [the Mayor cannot prevent the protest].
"If he does know, it shows he's playing party politics.
"If he doesn't know, it brings into question his competence."
Asked for his own view on whether it would be appropriate for the protest to go ahead on Armistice Day, regardless of his lack of power to prevent it, the Mayor called on people thinking of protesting to "understand the importance of that weekend to our entire country".
He said those protesting were "in danger of driving people away" from the very cause they are championing by choosing to protest on Armistice Day.
A City Hall source added: “It’s concerning that the Minister of State doesn’t seem to understand Home Office legislation. As set out in law, only the Home Secretary has the power to ban a March or protest in London.”
Meanwhile a Westminster City Council source said: “The Home Secretary has the existing powers to ban a march without the involvement of the local authority.
“We don’t have powers to grant or deny permission for protests.”
The law is understood to say that the Met Commissioner, with the consent of the Home Secretary, can ban a march if he reasonably believed that restrictions on it would not be sufficient to prevent serious public disorder.
Any role for the Mayor in such a process, if at all, was disputed.
Shadow minister without portfolio, Nick Thomas-Symonds, told Times Radio Labour de-facto backs the government position on Gaza protests planned for Remembrance Sunday.
Speaking to Cathy Newman, Mr Thomas-Symonds said, “no remembrance, no act of remembrance, no ceremony of remembrance, no gathering of people around the Cenotaph should be disturbed. And we would back the police fully in ensuring that that’s the case.”
The Met Police vowed to use all its powers to stop disruption of Remembrance weekend commemorations amid ongoing pro-Palestinian protests.
The Met Police said officers will be deployed across the capital that weekend as part of a “significant policing and security operation”.
It said protest groups have not indicated plans to march on Remembrance Sunday on November 12, but a significant demonstration is expected on the Saturday.
Organisers of the demo have pledged to avoid the Whitehall area where the Cenotaph war memorial – the focus of national remembrance events – is located.
The Met said: “This is a weekend with huge national significance.
“We will use all the powers available to us to ensure anyone intent on disrupting it will not succeed.”
It added: “We’re absolutely committed to ensuring the safety and security of anyone attending commemorative events.”
The high-profile Remembrance Sunday outdoor service at the Cenotaph is attended by royals, senior politicians and veterans each year, and is a poignant tribute to those who lost their lives in conflict.
Armistice Day on November 11 is the anniversary of the end of the First World War, and is also known as Remembrance Day.
Friends of Al-Aqsa (FOA) is preparing to bus protesters from Leicester to London on the Saturday and said it expected hundreds of thousands of people to take part in the demonstration organised by a coalition of groups.
Ismail Patel, FOA spokesman, said: “We definitely will not be at the Cenotaph. We understand the sensitivity of the date.”
Met Police Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley said he is “deeply concerned” about the effects of protests on day-to-day local policing and admitted he may have to look to other forces to help deal with the ongoing action.
“We are starting to look at what point we need to look for mutual aid from other forces and change our approach to resourcing this to make it sustainable,” he told the London Assembly.
He said that since Hamas attacked Jews in Israel on October 7 successive weekend protests in central London have been policed by 1,000 officers, then 1,500 and then by 2,000.
Police made around 70 arrests at the protests and almost 100 more for hate crimes, with anti-Jewish hate crime up 14-fold and anti-Muslim hate crime up threefold on last year, he said.
Israel’s ambassador to the UK, Tzipi Hotovely, said she hopes those taking part in pro-Palestine marches do not understand what they are supporting, telling The Telegraph: “I hope they don’t (understand), because if they do, it’s serious.
“It’s not possible to support this type of repulsive actions against human beings. People find it hard to understand that an ideology like this exists.
“But when we think about the jihad calls that we heard (on the marches) in London, when we think about Isis as an organisation that was slaughtering Muslims, committing the same war crimes against Muslims, and I’m not speaking about Islam: I’m speaking about the radical jihadi movement that is secular and against Western civilisation. They kill like it’s a duty for them to kill.”
On November 4, the Stop the War coalition is calling for a nationwide “Day of Action for Palestine” around the country, with a rally in London’s Trafalgar Square.
Meanwhile, Stand Up to Racism and Extinction Rebellion London are organising a “Stop Braverman, Stop the Hate” march outside the Home Office.
Home Secretary Suella Braverman drew criticism when she warned that a “hurricane” of mass migration is coming, in her speech to the Conservative party conference last month.