Sir Mark Rowley was warned by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak that protesters might ‘desecrate’ the Cenotaph, where a parade, two-minute silence and wreath-laying ceremony will commemorate Britain’s war dead on Saturday.
Mr Sunak said the timing of the march was ‘provocative and disrespectful’. Ministers and MPs also urged the Met commissioner to ban the rally, which is expected to attract up to a million people.
Home Secretary Suella Braverman called it ‘entirely unacceptable to desecrate Armistice Day with a hate march’, adding that it posed an obvious risk of serious public disorder ‘as well as giving offence to millions of decent British people’.
But Sir Mark resisted the calls, promising the Met would use ‘all its powers’ to prevent disruption.
The Prime Minister warned that pro-Palestine demonstrators might ‘desecrate’ the Cenotaph in a march set to go ahead through London next weekend during the Armistice Day commeration
But Met Police chief Sir Mark Rowley refused to cancel the protest, instead saying that police would use all powers to prevent disruption
Police detain a demonstrator involved in a sit-down protest on Saturday in Piccadilly Circus
The Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC), which is organising the march, said demonstrators would march from Hyde Park to the US Embassy in Battersea.
Tory party chairman Greg Hands told the MoS that the Met should prevent the march, adding: ‘These commemorations are sacrosanct.’
Were Cenotaph flags really taken down to be cleaned?
Anger and confusion erupted on social media yesterday after photographs were posted of the Cenotaph without its flags.
Furious users on X, formerly Twitter, complained that the flags had been removed from the national memorial to the war dead to stop them being desecrated by the pro-Palestinian protesters in nearby Trafalgar Square.
The Cenotaph is usually adorned with the ensigns of the Royal Air Force, the British Army, the Royal Navy and the Merchant Navy.
David Atherton, a media pundit, posted a photo of the monument, tweeting: ‘The Cenotaph right now. Stripped of flags, surrounded by barriers. What an awful country Britain has become.’
Lord Matthew Ridley, whose great-grandfather Sir Edwin Lutyens created the memorial in 1919, wrote: ‘As a great grandson of the architect who designed the Cenotaph, I deeply resent the fact that it has to be fenced off and stripped of flags to appease yet again a baying mob that supports or excuses those who perpetrated a horrific atrocity.’
But within hours, Scotland Yard issued a statement on X in response, claiming that the flags had been taken down only for a routine clean ahead of next weekend’s Armistice Day and Remembrance Sunday commemorations.
The Met said: ‘We have been in touch with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.
They have confirmed that every year as part of preparations for Armistice Weekend [the flags] are removed and cleaned. They will be returned shortly.’
Louie French was one of 12 MPs who wrote to Sir Mark demanding he use his powers ‘to prevent this disruption’. He told the MoS: ‘Remembrance weekend is the wrong time to do it. I am particularly concerned for the Jewish community, with the rise in anti-Semitism. It’s just toxic.’
Pro-Palestinian demonstrations have taken place in London and other cities every weekend since Hamas attacked Israel on October 7, killing more than 1,400 people. The protests have been marred by violence and anti-Semitic abuse.
There are also fears that Saturday night’s Festival of Remembrance at the Royal Albert Hall, attended by the King and Queen and the Prince and Princess of Wales, might also be disrupted.
Charles will lead the biggest act of commemoration, the National Service of Remembrance, at the Cenotaph on Sunday. Tory MP Bob Blackman expressed concern about a ‘potential threat’ to Charles, adding that he was ‘disappointed’ Sir Mark had allowed the previous day’s protest. ‘The concern has to be that some of the more thuggish demonstrators will leave the route and seek to disrupt the service,’ he said.
Sir Mark cannot cancel a march himself, but must apply to the Home Secretary. Mrs Braverman effectively invited him to do so yesterday by setting out the mechanism on X, formerly Twitter. She posted a link to a 2011 precedent when the police applied to the then Home Secretary Theresa May to ban an English Defence League march, which she agreed to.
A No10 source said: ‘The PM has made it very clear he believes the Met has the power to stop protests that seriously disrupt or intimidate, and now it’s a decision for the operationally independent Met.’
The PSC said it would challenge any banning decision in court. A senior PSC member said the march would begin almost two hours after the Cenotaph ceremony. Insisting there was no risk of disruption, the official added: ‘This march will be calling for a ceasefire in Gaza.’
Last night, Ben Jamal, director of the PSC, warned that Mr Sunak and Mrs Braverman’s comments could encourage far-Right extremists to hold counter-demos.
Nick Lowles, of the anti-racist group Searchlight, said the language around the protests needed to be toned down, tweeting: ‘Suella Braverman and other political commentators need to lower the temperature of the debate before things get out of hand.’
The home secretary Suella Braverman was urged to tone down her language around protests, having repeatedly branded them ‘hate marches’
But Tory London Assembly member Neil Garratt, who signed the MPs’ letter, said: ‘The only reason for protesters to march on Armistice Day is to provoke a reaction. It is wrong. Police must not allow it.’
Rear Admiral Chris Parry said of Sir Mark: ‘If I was in his position and there was a risk of violence, I would ban it. If there is violence or desecration of the Cenotaph, he should resign because he allowed it to happen. If there is desecration, I expect the organisers to be charged.’
General Richard Dannatt, former Chief of the General Staff, said: ‘If there is trouble, and he gets it wrong, he will have to resign.’
The Royal British Legion said it respected ‘the right of people to protest’, but Armistice Day was not a time ‘for political protests’.
Yesterday, Policing Minister Chris Philp took Gary Lineker on, urging the ex-England captain to reconsider his tweet that the Armistice Day protest was not a ‘hate march’. He posted: ‘Gary – calling for “intifada” and “jihad” (as many at the protests have done) is NOT a call for ceasefire or peace.’