Downing Street: ‘Wrong’ to Project ‘From the River to the Sea’ Onto Parliament

The remarks came after MPs condemned the slogan, which some say are genocidal, but No. 10 stopped short of saying police should have intervened in the stunt.
Downing Street: ‘Wrong’ to Project ‘From the River to the Sea’ Onto Parliament
A Palestinian flag flaps in the air by a message reading 'Stop bombs' projected on The Elizabeth Tower at the Palace of Westminster, home to the Houses of Parliament, during a Pro-Palestinian demonstration in Parliament Square in London on Feb. 21, 2024. (Henry Nicholls/AFP via Getty Images)
Lily Zhou

Downing Street has weighed in after MPs condemned the projection of a controversial “pro-Palestine” slogan, which some consider to be genocidal, onto the Parliament building on Wednesday.

A spokeswoman for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak told journalists on Friday it was “wrong” that protesters beamed “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” onto the Elizabeth Tower, which houses Big Ben, but stopped short of saying police should have intervened.

The remarks come after the Metropolitan police was criticised for “doing nothing” about the stunt, which happened on the night MPs were debating about calling for a ceasefire in Israel and Gaza.

“It is rightly a decision for the independent police to make operational decisions on the ground,” the No. 10 spokeswoman said.

“But at the same time, I think most people would agree, irrespective of operational decisions which are rightly for the police, that that was wrong.”

She said the government is “extremely mindful and would continue to urge people to be mindful of the fear and distress felt by people and many communities around the country.”

“We’re very clear that harassment, abuse, intimidation is unacceptable,” she added.

According to footage posted on social media by Palestine Solidarity Campaign, which organised the demonstration on Wednesday, messages beamed onto the Elizabeth Tower also included “Stop bombing Gaza—ceasefire now” and “stop bombs.”
Other footage posted on X show the controversial slogan, “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” which was often heard during PSC’s marches, was also projected onto the building.
Following the stunt, Conservative backbencher Andrew Percy criticised the Met, telling The Telegraph. the force’s response was “weak and pathetic.”

“There’s no doubt that chant is genocidal. It denies Jews self-determination in their homeland, calls for the destruction of the state of Israel and, more importantly, it is chanted by people and promoted by groups who are in many cases openly anti-Semitic and who call for Jews to be wiped out,“ he said, adding that the police should pursue the matter because it’s ”a crime to incite racial or religious hatred.

Home Secretary James Cleverly told BBC Radio 4’s “Today” programme that it’s difficult for him to second guess the operational nature of the incident, but the words are “deeply, deeply offensive.”

“They cause huge amounts of distress to the Jewish community. The implication is the eradication of the state of Israel. Both personally and as a government I completely reject that,” he said.

During weekly pro-Palestine marches in London since the Israel-Hamas war broke out, some demonstrators told media outlets they were just there to advocate for the casualties of war and didn’t know what the slogan means; some said “Palestinians” between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea should be free, without being clear on who the “Palestinians” include or what “free” will look like; while some clearly indicated they believe the State of Israel shouldn’t exist.

A spokesperson for the Met said on Thursday, “This is a chant that has been frequently heard at pro-Palestinian demonstrations for many years and we are very aware of the strength of feeling in relation to it.

“While there are scenarios where chanting or using these words could be unlawful depending on the specific location or context, its use in a wider public protest setting, such as last night, is not a criminal offence.”

Meanwhile, House of Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle is facing pressure to resign over his handling of the debate on Gaza ceasefire.

Sir Lindsay suggested his decision was partly influenced by concerns about the security of MPs, alluding to threats to MPs’ safety by aggressive pro-Palestine protesters and extremists.

Speaking to Sky News on Friday, the home secretary backed Sir Lindsay, but said MPs need to act without fear or favour.

Asked on Friday about political violence tsar Lord Walney’s reported bid to give police powers to disperse protests around Parliament, Downing street said it continues to “keep in close contact with the police to ensure that they have the powers that they need to manage protests appropriately.”

“And we’re very clear that while protest is a cornerstone of our democracy, we must and will not allow that to turn into abuse, incitement of hatred and violence against others. That is unacceptable,” the spokeswoman added.