Tensions are growing across the UK over fears that pro-Palestine protests will clash with the Remembrance Day parade, wreath laying ceremony and two-minute silence being held in London on Saturday.
The planned demonstration, which expects to bring tens of thousands of people to the capital to oppose Israel‘s bombardment of Gaza in retaliation to Hamas‘ October 7 March, has received mounting backlash in recent days.
It comes after Prime Minister Rishi Sunak offered a stark warning that there was a ‘clear and present risk’ that the Cenotaph and other war memorials could be ‘desecrated’ during the march on Armistice Day.
The Metropolitan Police vowed to use ‘all its powers’ to prevent disruption on the day of reflection and were seen out in force this weekend guarding the Cenotaph, which has been stripped of its British flags and surrounded by metal barriers.
Scotland Yard said the Union Jacks had been removed as part of a routine clean ahead of the memorial weekend adding that they would be returned soon after anger and confusion erupted on social media at the sight of the bare monument.
Yesterday, patriotic protesters and veterans stood guarding the memorial in Whitehall while a pro-Palestinian demonstration – which had been largely peaceful – gathered a short walk away at Trafalgar Square.
The men held up signs reading ‘have some respect for your British heroes’ while waving Union Jack flags and singing Rule Britannia. The former servicemen later applauded as members from the Royal Navy held up a flag saying ‘Lest We Forget’.
Meanwhile, a group of elderly volunteers selling remembrance poppies outside Charing Cross station were surrounded protesters who jeered and chanted as they sat there with their money box.
Dismayed British Royal Legion poppy sellers could only look on after pro-Palestine protesters engaged in a sit-in protest at Charing Cross station
It comes amid growing clamour for a march planned for central London on November 11 to be banned, though police and politicians including Ms Braverman and London mayor Sadiq Khan are arguing over who has the power to do so.
Yesterday, patriotic protesters and veterans stood guarding the memorial in Whitehall while a pro-Palestinian demonstration – which had been largely peaceful – gathered a short walk away at Trafalgar Square
The image led to condemnation from veterans minister Johnny Mercer who offered to ‘rattle a tin’ with the charitable trio.
Pleading on X, formerly known as Twitter, he wrote: ‘The saddest thing my generation of Veterans ever say to me is that they struggle to recognise the Country they wore the uniform for. This is not it. We mustn’t allow it to become like this.
‘London is a big City; there are plenty of areas to protest – the right for which Servicemen and women are proud to serve – without appearing to try and intimidate ordinary citizens trying to collect a bit of cash for Poppy Day – a non-political symbol.’
Sharing an image of the undecorated cenotaph, bordered up with metal fencing, Matt Ridley 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.’
As strains across the country grow, Home Secretary Suella Braverman has called for any pro-Palestine protester that vandalises the Cenotaph to be jailed ‘faster than their feet can hit the ground’.
The Royal British Legion said it respected ‘the right of people to protest’, but Armistice Day was not a time ‘for political protests’.
Campaign group Friends of Al Aqsa, which has been organising the marches throughout London since the war broke out in the Middle East almost a month ago, has said it has ‘no intention of marching on or near Whitehall’.
It said the decision had been made ‘in order to not interfere with the events at the Cenotaph’.
A group of people hold a gathering near the Cenotaph war memorial in Whitehall
Protesters in London last Saturday holding a banner reading ‘Palestine will be free – victory to the resistance’
The Met is investigating a female protester seen posing with a banner reading ‘please keep the world clean’ next to an image of a stick man throwing a Star of David into a bin
The PM warned that there is a ‘clear and present risk’ that the Cenotaph and other war memorials could be ‘desecrated’ during marches
The group, co-organised with Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PCS), added that it’s new route would be between Marble Arch and Battersea Park, expected to start at 12.45 – two hours after the minute of silence.
But the capital has continued to be rocked by the series of weekly protests, often being marred by violence and anti-Semetic abuse.
Just yesterday the angry demonstration saw fireworks thrown at police in Trafalgar Square, injuring four.
The Met Police has warned it would ‘intervene’ if protesters shout ‘jihad’ during any demonstration but stopped short of saying they would be arrested, after previously claiming chanting the word was not an offence.
On other occasions, hateful and anti-semetic signs have been paraded during the march. Cops issued a probe to find people with photos of paragliding Hamas terrorists and another who held a ‘I support Hamas’ sign.
Another investigation is underway after a female protester who was pictured posing with a banner reading ‘please keep the world clean’ next to an image of a stick man throwing an Israeli flag bearing the Star of David into a bin.
Along with concerns the Cenotaph could be vandalised, there are concerns that the Festival of Remembrance – held at the Royal Albert Hall and usually attended by members of the Royal Family – could also be disrupted.
Controversially, the Home Secretary went as far as to brand the anti-Israel marches through London as a ‘hate march’.
Her choice of words led to backlash, with Nick Lowles, of the anti-racist group Searchlight, calling for the language to be toned down.
He tweeted: ‘Suella Braverman and other political commentators need to lower the temperature of the debate before things get out of hand.’
The Home Secretary went on to add that by demonstrating on Armistice Day it posed an obvious risk of serious public disorder ‘as well as giving offence to millions of decent British people’.
Police on their horses surround the Cenotaph as a security measure on Saturday
Ever since the conflict broke out in the Middle East, pro-Palestine marches have been held every Saturday
Thousands of Pro Palestinian supporters perform a sit in in Oxford Circus before marching to Trafalgar Square yesterday
The Met has vowed to use ‘all its powers’ to stop protesters disrupting Armistice Day commemorations
During an interview with Sky News yesterday, Ms Braverman declined to say whether the march would be banned but added: ‘If anyone were to vandalise the Cenotaph, they must be put into a jail cell faster than their feet can touch the ground.’
Tory party chairman Greg Hands told the Mail that the Met should prevent the march adding: ‘These commemorations are sacrosanct.’
Louie French, one of 12 MPs who wrote to Sir Mark demanding he use his powers ‘to prevent this disruption’, added: ‘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.’
Tom Tugendhat, the security minister and a veteran who served in Afghanistan and Iraq, today called the protests ‘inappropriate’ and said he had written to Mr Khan to ask him to consider the ‘options available’.
He told BBC Breakfast: ‘It is a moment where we remember those we lost, and I think for the whole country the Cenotaph is sacred ground and the idea that on a day like Remembrance Day you would have a protest going past it, I don’t think that is acceptable.
‘That is why I have written to the Mayor of London, and to Westminster Council, and to the Metropolitan Police asking them to look very carefully at the powers that they have and to consider what options they have available, because personally I don’t think this is an appropriate moment for a protest.’
The MP’s comments led to a backlash from Sadiq Khan who said he had no power to stop the marches. He said: ‘If this security minister knew his brief, he would know the only person in the country that can ban marches is the Home Secretary – his colleague in Cabinet.
‘So rather than writing these public letters to me, rather than this posturing when he’s doing media – speak to the Home Secretary.’
Tom Tugendhat, the security minister and a veteran who served in Afghanistan and Iraq , today called the plan to hold a protest on Armistice Day ‘inappropriate’
Met Police chief Sir Mark Rowley refused to cancel the protest, instead saying that police would use all powers to prevent disruption
Pictured: Protesters on the Bridge in London on 28 October Pro-Palestine protest
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
Met chief Sir Mark Rowley also ruled out putting a stop to the planned protest in London but said the force will use ‘all its powers’ to prevent disruption.
The Palestine Solidarity Campaign is due to meet with the Met on Monday to discuss the operation and the potential route for next weekend’s demonstrations.
The group said it would challenge any banning decision in court, insisting once again there was no risk of disruption to the Cenotaph, adding ‘this march will be calling for a ceasefire in Gaza’.
This morning Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Downden attacked pro-Palestine demonstrators questioning why there had not been the ‘same kind of moral clarity’ shown after the Hamas attacks as that witnessed after George Floyd was killed.
Speaking to Sky News’s Sunday Morning With Trevor Phillips programme, Mr Dowden said: ‘We shouldn’t see this just as a matter for the Jewish community.
‘We should see this is as a matter for all of British society. It is not acceptable to our British values that there should be that kind of intimidation.
‘And I have to say to you that I am a bit disappointed that if you look at the moral indignation and the clarity that we saw after the murder of George Floyd in the United States with the Black Lives Matter movement, we haven’t seen, across civic society, the same kind of moral clarity showing that Jewish lives matter.
‘I think that is a cause of hurt to the Jewish community and it is something that disappoints me as well. I see it, whether it is on our campuses or elsewhere, we need to send a very clear signal that Jewish people are safe in this country, not just for the sake of Jewish people but for the sake of British society.’
He added: ‘People need to understand that antisemitism is racism, full stop. And the same abhorrence that we show to other forms of racism, we should show towards antisemitism.’