Holding a pro-Palestine protest on Armistice Day would be “provocative and disrespectful”, the Prime Minister has said.
Rishi Sunak said there is a “clear and present risk that the Cenotaph and other war memorials could be desecrated” amid reports that tens of thousands of demonstrators are planning to take to the streets to call for an immediate ceasefire in Israel’s attacks on Gaza 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 royals.
Writing on X, formerly 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 (Suella Braverman) to support the Met Police in doing everything necessary to protect the sanctity of Armistice Day and Remembrance Sunday.”
Ms Braverman and the immigration minister, Robert Jenrick, backed the Prime Minister’s assessment, with the Home Secretary branding such a demonstration a “hate march”.
My statement on the disrespectful protests planned for Armistice Day. pic.twitter.com/bik539rDqn
— Rishi Sunak (@RishiSunak) November 3, 2023
She tweeted: “I agree with the Prime Minister. 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.
“I have full confidence in the Metropolitan Police to ensure public safety and take all factors into account as they have done in similar situations in the past.”
Mr Jenrick wrote: “Armistice Day is sacrosanct. These disrespectful and often hate-filled marches, routinely intimidating our fellow citizens, must not be permitted to demean our national moments of remembrance.”
I agree with the Prime Minister. 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. 1/2 https://t.co/asRk3IxHOG
— Suella Braverman MP (@SuellaBraverman) November 3, 2023
Security minister Tom Tugendhat has written to the Mayor of London, Westminster Council and the Metropolitan Police, “asking them to look very carefully at the powers that they have and to consider what options they have available”.
“Personally, I don’t think this is an appropriate moment for a protest,” Mr Tugendhat told the BBC.
The Met, which will be responsible for on-the-day policing of the demonstration, could ask the Home Secretary for temporary powers to ban protests from happening in certain areas of London, but only if it believes there is a risk of “serious public disorder”.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan, whose role gives him influence over policing priorities in the capital, said Mr Tugendhat should stop “posturing”.
He told the PA news agency: “If this security minister knew his brief, he would know the only person in the country that can ban marches is the Home Secretary – his colleague in cabinet.”
Mr Khan said it is “incredibly important” that demonstrators understand the importance of Remembrance events and the Met Police was speaking to protest organisers to “make sure they stay away from the Cenotaph”.
He added: “I’d encourage the organisers to work with the police to stay away from the Cenotaph.”
The Met has vowed to use all its powers to stop the disruption of commemorations and 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.
Demonstration organisers have pledged to avoid the Whitehall area where the Cenotaph war memorial – the focus of national remembrance events – is located.
Met Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley, in a letter to Mr Sunak, said: “Like you, I recognise the profound significance of Armistice Day and the events that take place across the weekend in central London and in communities across London.
“We will take a robust approach and yesterday I set out our intent to use all the powers available to the MPS, including putting in place conditions, if required, to ensure events in Whitehall and the surrounding areas as well as other locations of significance across London are not undermined.”
The high-profile Remembrance Sunday outdoor service at the Cenotaph is attended by royals, senior politicians and veterans 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 expects hundreds of thousands of people to take part in the demonstration, organised by a coalition of groups.
Spokesman Ismail Patel said: “We definitely will not be at the Cenotaph. We understand the sensitivity of the date.”