Deputy PM has ‘grave concerns’ over pro-Palestinian protests on Armistice Day

His comments echo those of Rishi Sunak and Suella Braverman who have criticised the scheduled march

Martina Bet
Sunday 05 November 2023 13:55 GMT
Pro-Palestine protesters demand ceasefire during London march

The deputy prime minister says he has “grave concerns” over a pro-Palestinian march on Armistice Day and says the Metropolitan Police should “consider” whether the protests should go ahead.

Oliver Dowden said such demonstrations could lead to unrest or be misconstrued as a sign of intimidation, especially towards the Jewish community.

His comments echo prime minister Rishi Sunak and home secretary Suella Braverman who have already criticised further pro-Palestine protests next Saturday, November 11, despite organisers vowing to avoid the Whitehall area where the Cenotaph war memorial – the focus of national remembrance events – is located.

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley has also promised to take a “robust approach” and to use “all the powers available” to ensure commemorative events are “not undermined”.

Speaking to Sky News’s Sunday Morning With Trevor Phillips programme, Mr Dowden said: “I think that, at a time that is meant to be a solemn remembrance of the sacrifice of previous generations and upholding our British values, I think the police need to think very carefully about the safety of that demonstration, namely whether it could spill over into violent protest and the signal it sends particularly to the Jewish community.

“Now, I understand that the Met Commissioner continues to keep it under review and I think that is appropriate.”

Asked whether he is sending a signal to the police that the march currently planned for November 11 should be banned, Mr Dowden said: “The police are operationally independent.

“But I do have very grave concerns about that march, both in terms of how it sits with acts of solemn remembrance and the kind of intimidation that is being sent out by the chants and everything else that goes on at those marches.

Protesters holding placards and Palestinian flags rally during a pro-Palestine 'Ceasefire Now' demonstration at Trafalgar Square in London

“I think it is right that it is the law of the land that the police are operationally independent. But I think it is important that they consider those factors, yes.”

Appearing on the BBC’s Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg programme later on, Mr Dowden also insisted there has been “hateful conduct” at pro-Palestinian marches and those attending need to ask whether they are “lending support” to such behaviour.

He said: “You have had those chants of things like ‘jihad’ – they are an affront not just to the Jewish community, they should be an affront to all of British society.

“And I think all of us should be calling out that kind of thing, and I think people who are on those marches need to ask themselves whether they are lending support to that kind of thing.”

Meanwhile, shadow defence secretary John Healey conveyed optimism that, through effective co-ordination, the police will be able to facilitate the Palestinian protest march at an alternative time and location in London.

Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden has voiced ‘grave concerns’ over the scheduling of a pro-Palestinian march on Armistice Day (Lucy North/PA)

On the deputy PM’s signal that he would prefer it if the pro-Palestinian demonstration on Armistice Day did not go ahead, Mr Healey told Sky News: “This is a difficult balance, isn’t it?

“In a democracy like ours the right to free speech and protest is fundamental, but there has to be a respect for the Remembrance Service, for all cenotaphs and memorials, for the two minutes’ silence on Saturday, not just the Remembrance Parade on Sunday.

“That must be protected and I hope the police – and it will be an operational decision for them – will be able to work with the protests, the Palestinian protest march organisers, as the indications seem to suggest that the march will be at a later time in a different place in London, so that any sort of conflict, which would be utterly unacceptable, doesn’t arise.”

Asked if the Labour Party would be upset if the police decided they did not want the march to go ahead, he said: “If the police decided they didn’t want to go ahead under what is the 1986 legislation it will be for the Home Secretary to take that decision. I hope that won’t be necessary.

“I believe it should be possible to manage both the proper respect and the conduct of the Remembrance Parade around the Cenotaph and allow the protesters concerned about what’s going on in Gaza and the loss of Palestinian lives to undertake their protest at a different time in a different part of London.”

A police officer detains a demonstrator taking part in a protest in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza in London REUTERS/Toby Melville

The row began after the security minister wrote to the Metropolitan Police and Mr Khan asking them to look at halting the demonstrations. Tom Tugendhat – who said plans to hold the protest on a “day of grief” was “not an appropriate time” and “not an appropriate venue” – was later accused of “posturing” by London mayor Khan, who said only the government had the power to ban marches.

And march organisers accused Mr Tugendhat of “at worst, an incitement to public disorder”.

But Mr Sunak said there was a “clear and present risk” that the Cenotaph and other war memorials could be “desecrated” by the march next Saturday. “That would be an affront to the British public and the values we stand for,” he warned.

He also revealed he had asked Ms Braverman to support the Metropolitan Police “in doing everything necessary” to protect the sanctity of both Armistice Day and Remembrance Sunday.

She later joined him in denouncing the protest – expected to attract tens of thousands of protesters – saying it raised an “obvious risk of serious public disorder, violence and damage as well as giving offence to millions of decent British people”. “It is entirely unacceptable to desecrate Armistice Day with a hate march through London,” she added.

She also included a link to a previous occasion in which a home secretary agreed to a police request to ban a march.

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