UK protests: Clashes feared as right-wing groups vow to ‘defend’ memorials over weekend

Police impose conditions to keep opposing protesters apart in London as 'flashpoints' expected elsewhere

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Correspondent
Friday 12 June 2020 21:03 BST
Cressida Dick urges people to stay away from protests in London

Clashes are feared between Black Lives Matter protesters, football hooligans, veterans and far-right groups who have vowed to “defend” memorials over another weekend of demonstrations.

Several statues in Parliament Square and elsewhere have been boarded up by authorities as a protective measure, and to defuse tensions over potential vandalism.

The London faction of Black Lives Matter cancelled an official demonstration on Saturday after the Democratic Football Lads Alliance (DFLA), Tommy Robinson and Britain First called for supporters to travel to the capital.

Moving its Hyde Park rally to Friday, the group wrote on Instagram: “We want the protests to be a safe space for people to attend however we don’t think it’ll be possible with people like them present.”

Researchers at Hope Not Hate said there were indications that some football groups would focus on local monuments outside London instead, and that Leeds and Bristol could be potential “flashpoints”.

Protests are also expected to take place in cities including Birmingham, Newcastle and Glasgow.

Robinson, whose real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, said he would no longer be travelling to London because the Cenotaph and other sites could not be “attacked”.

In an online message to supporters, he claimed to have received death threats and added: “I realise my presence in London would be detrimental to racial tensions.”

The DFLA, which claims to oppose extremism but contains far-right elements, previously said members and veterans would be travelling to London on Saturday to “protect monuments and memorials”.

But in light of the protection of statues and Black Lives Matter cancellations, the vast majority were expected to cancel or change their plans.

Britain First vowed that its members would still be protesting in the capital and “protect statues nationwide from left-wing hooliganism over the coming months”.

On Friday evening, the Metropolitan Police imposed conditions instructing Black Lives Matter and right-wing protesters to stay in separate areas or face being arrested.

“Based on current information, and in order to keep those people safe who plan to come and protest, we have made the decision to impose conditions on the planned demonstrations on Saturday,” Commander Bas Javid said.

“If you were planning to come to London, I would urge you to reconsider, but if you are still intent, please familiarise yourself with what the conditions are. Please keep yourself safe by complying with government guidance on social distancing.”

Conditions imposed under the Public Order Act stipulate that Black Lives Matter and “associated groups” must follow a set protest route from Hyde Park to Whitehall and finish by 5pm.

Any rally must take place in a set area of Trafalgar Square and Whitehall and end at the same time.

Scotland Yard stated that “any assembly promoted by the right wing and associated groups which is due to take place on 13 June also has two conditions imposed on it” must stay on the other side of a police cordon in the same period.

There have already been small clashes between Black Lives Matter protesters and monument “defenders”, including in the Hertfordshire town of Hoddesdon where counter-demonstrators were filmed making “white power” gestures and shouting: “Why don’t you go back to Africa?”

Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, urged people to stay away from central protests that could “lead to disorder, vandalism and violence”.

A statue of Winston Churchill is boarded up on Parliament Square in central London on 12 June 2020 (AFP/Getty)

“Extreme far-right groups who advocate hatred and division are planning counter-protests,” he added.

“Staying home and ignoring them is the best response this weekend.”

Nick Thomas-Symonds, the shadow home secretary, hit out at “far-right extremists seeking to exploit the situation and sow hate for their own divisive ends”.

“I have no doubt that police across the country have the skills, experience and dedication to respond as well as possible to the challenge, and the vast majority of protestors intend to be peaceful,” he said.

The National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) said forces across England and Wales had “appropriate plans to deal with protests” in place.

Since George Floyd’s death in Minnesota on 25 May, police have recorded 199 protests across the UK attended by an estimated 155,000 people.

As of Wednesday, there had been 137 arrests and over 60 police officers injured.

Large protests are illegal under coronavirus lockdown laws, which still ban public gatherings of more than six people.

The prime minister has called for people not to join weekend demonstrations, claiming they were being used ”as a pretext to attack the police, to cause violence and to cause damage to public property”.

A mounted police officer raises their baton as police horses ride along Whitehall, past the entrance to Downing Street, in an attempt to disperse protestors

Speaking on Friday, Boris Johnson said: “Whatever our feelings about the cause, we should not support a demonstration that is, in all probability looking at what has happened before, going to end in deliberate and calculated violence.”

But police leaders said they had no plans to shut protests down or tell organisers to call them off.

NPCC chair Martin Hewitt said officers were balancing the “competing demands” of the coronavirus outbreak, Health Protection Regulations and the right to protest.

The Police Federation, which represents rank-and-file officers, said violence against police was “completely unacceptable”.

“We are aware that some may be intending to further hijack this weekend’s protests as an excuse for creating disorder and causing violence,” said chair John Apter.

“Please do not participate in these gatherings which put public health at risk – consider other ways that you can support the cause of Black Lives Matter if you wish to.

“But if you must attend, then please stay safe, observe social distancing and protest peacefully, as criminal behaviour or any violence towards our police officers or others will not be tolerated.”

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