UK police urged to ban pro-Palestinian rally
November 8, 2023 07:59 PM
British police came under mounting government pressure on Wednesday to ban a pro-Palestinian rally scheduled to take place in London on the day the country commemorates its war dead.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said he would hold the Metropolitan Police commissioner "accountable" for his decision to allow the demonstration against the Israel-Hamas war to go ahead this Saturday.
Tens of thousands of people are expected to take to the streets of Britain's capital to demand a ceasefire in the month-old conflict.
The Conservative leader says a march on Armistice Day would be "provocative and disrespectful" but organisers have resisted his pleas and those from the Met Police to postpone the demonstration.
Met Police chief Mark Rowley has said the rally, organised by the Stop the War Coalition, does not meet the threshold for requesting a government order to stop it going ahead.
Rowley said such a ban was "incredibly rare" and a "last resort" where there is a serious threat of disorder.
"The events taking place this weekend are of great significance and importance to our nation," he said in a statement.
"We will do everything in our power to ensure they pass without disruption."
Sunak was due to meet Rowley on Wednesday and government ministers suggested that the commissioner should think again.
"There is a legal threshold and the commissioner is of the view that that legal threshold has not been met," Health Secretary Steve Barclay told Sky News.
"Obviously, the Home Office and colleagues will discuss that over the course of the day."
Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer said in a radio interview that police should keep the protest "under review".
November 11 commemorates the end of fighting in World War I, and the sacrifice of armed forces in all conflicts since 1914.
Protest groups have not indicated they plan to march on Remembrance Sunday, when solemn ceremonies and two minutes' silence are held at war memorials up and down the country.
But some fear their Saturday protest will disrupt Sunday's commemorations.
- 'Robust' -
Organisers have vowed to avoid the Whitehall area of central London where the Cenotaph -- the focal point of Remembrance Sunday -- is located.
A spokesman for Sunak said the prime minister will seek from Rowley during their meeting "further assurances" that the police's handling of the protest will be "robust and sufficient".
He denied that the UK leader was trying to put pressure on the Met chief by saying he would hold him "accountable" for green-lighting the march.
"The Met are operationally independent. It's the job of the prime minister and the government to hold them to account for their approach," the spokesman told reporters.
London has seen large demonstrations on four successive weekends since the Hamas attacks in southern Israel on October 7 which Israel says left 1,400 people dead, mostly civilians. They also took 240 hostages.
Since then, Israel has relentlessly bombarded the Palestinian territory and sent in ground troops, with the health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza saying more than 10,550 people have been killed.
Police have made dozens of arrests at the London protests, including for hate crimes.
Sunak's outspoken interior minister Suella Braverman has branded the protests "hate marches".
Downing Street denied that it is "picking a culture war" by attacking the protest and says there is a risk of violence and disorder linked to breakaway groups.
"I think given some of the individuals who've been seen attending these marches, I'm not sure we can completely put full store into trusting that all individuals will behave responsibly," said Sunak's spokesman.