Met Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley has poured cold water on calls to ban a pro-Palestinian march on Armistice Day this Saturday, saying there “will be a protest this weekend.”
Sir Mark said the intelligence around the potential for serious disorder this weekend “does not meet the threshold to apply for a ban,” and the Metropolitan Police won’t apply for a ban unless the situation changes in the coming days.
The Met urged the campaign groups to “urgently reconsider” because of the risks of “criminal acts by breakaway groups,” but the groups called on the Met to resist “political pressure.”
Tens of thousands of Pro-Palestinians demonstrators have taken the streets of London every Saturday since the Israel-Hamas war broke out. The are demanding an immediate ceasefire in Gaza despite Foreign Secretary James Cleverly saying he saw no signs Hamas would abide by a ceasefire.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said last week that planning any protest on Armistice Day—when Britain’s fallen soldiers are honoured—is “provocative and disrespectful” and warned of a “clear and present risk that the Cenotaph and other war memorials could be desecrated” despite the march avoiding the Cenotaph this week.
Home Secretary Suella Braverman, who has branded the recent pro-Palestinian demonstrations “hate marches,” said it’s “entirely unacceptable to desecrate Armistice Day with a hate march through London.”
No Absolute Banning PowerResponding to calls to ban the pro-Palestinian march, Sir Mark said while he recognised the concerns around protesting during the remembrance weekend, police have no absolute power in law to ban protests.
“The laws created by Parliament are clear. There is no absolute power to ban protest, therefore there will be a protest this weekend,” he said.
“The law provides no mechanism to ban a static gathering of people. It contains legislation which allows us to impose conditions to reduce disruption and the risk of violence, and in the most extreme cases when no other tactics can work, for marches or moving protests to be banned.”
Sir Mark said the use of a ban is “incredibly rare and must be based on intelligence which suggests there will be a real threat of serious disorder and no other way for police to manage the event,” adding, “The last time it was used was over a decade ago.”
In 2011, then-Prime Minister Theresa May approved a ban on ‘all marches in Tower Hamlets and four neighbouring boroughs for a 30-day period“ after the English Defence League planned to march in the area, which it claimed was ”subject to Sharia law.”
Sir Mark said there have been pockets of violence in the recent pro-Palestinian groups, “but at this time, the intelligence surrounding the potential for serious disorder this weekend does not meet the threshold to apply for a ban.”
“The organisers have shown a complete willingness to stay away from the Cenotaph and Whitehall and have no intention of disrupting the nation’s remembrance events. Should this change, we’ve been clear we will use powers and conditions available to us to protect locations and events of national importance at all costs,” he said.
Sir Mark said officers will deal with any breakaway groups or individuals during the weekend and will apply for a ban if it’s deemed necessary.
“If over the next few days the intelligence evolves, and we reach a threshold where there is a real threat of serious disorder we will approach the home secretary. Right now, we remain focused on the facts in front of us and developing our plan to ensure the highest levels of protection for events throughout the weekend,” he said.
Speaking to Sky News on Wednesday, Health Secretary Steve Barclay, who insisted the rally will be “provocative,” told Sky News, “I think there’ll be ongoing discussions on this.”
Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer, who is Jewish, told LBC the Met should “keep it under review.”
Ms. Frazer described the slogan “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” which has been chanted at pro-Palestinian demonstrations, as “extremely offensive” and anti-Semitic.
“I feel for the Jewish community, who are feeling very unsafe,” she said, suggesting it was “a very, very sad state of affairs in our country.”
Ms. Braverman has previously said the slogan is “widely understood as a demand for the destruction of Israel,” while some pro-Palestinian protesters have contested this characterisation.