UK PM Sunak summons Scotland Yard chief over pro-Palestinian protests
Sunak has previously called on the police to take the requisite action against “provocative and disrespectful” protests as the UK marks Armistice Day on November 11
LONDON: British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has summoned the Scotland Yard chief for a meeting on Wednesday to hold him “accountable” for policing plans for protests over the coming Remembrance weekend when Britain commemorates its World War martyrs.
Met Police Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley has stated that there is no absolute power to ban the right to peaceful protest in the country, and a planned pro-Palestinian demonstration calling for an immediate ceasefire in the Israel-Gaza conflict will go ahead on Saturday.
Sunak has previously called on the police to take the requisite action against “provocative and disrespectful” protests as the UK marks Armistice Day on November 11 – a sombre occasion held annually when commemorative wreaths are laid at the war memorials on Whitehall near Downing Street.
"This is a decision that the Metropolitan Police Commissioner has made; he has said that he can ensure that we safeguard Remembrance for the country this weekend as well as keep the public safe. Now, my job is to hold him accountable for that," said Sunak.
In a statement issued on Tuesday night, Mark Rowley pointed to legislation which allows the police to impose conditions to reduce disruption and the risk of violence, but only in very rare cases can they apply to the Home Secretary for marches or moving protests to be banned. However, he said the Met Police assessment of a serious disorder threat over the weekend did not meet the legal threshold to apply for such a ban.
“The laws created by Parliament are clear. There is no absolute power to ban protest, therefore there will be a protest this weekend,” reads Rowley’s statement.
“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,” he said.
He admitted there was pressure on the Met Police to use this power to ban a planned march by the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign on Saturday.
Rowley's statement goes on to explain: “But the use of this power 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. The last time it was used was over a decade ago.
“Over recent weeks we’ve seen an escalation of violence and criminality by small groups attaching themselves to demonstrations, despite some key organisers working positively with us. 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 Met Police chief pointed out that the organisers of Saturday’s protest had shown a complete willingness to stay away from the Cenotaph and Whitehall, the hub of the Remembrance Day events, as he pledged to protect locations and events of national importance at all costs.
Rowley reiterated that if the police intelligence around the planned protests evolves to reach a threshold where there is a real threat of serious disorder, the force will approach Home Secretary Suella Braverman to apply for a ban.
The Met Police, which operates independently, can apply for a public procession to be banned under Section 13 of the UK’s Public Order Act 1986 if this is a risk of serious public disorder. This is defined as an activity that may result in serious public disorder, serious damage to property or serious disruption to the life of the community.
There have been a series of protests in London and across other UK cities over the past few weekends as the conflict in the Middle East has intensified. Several arrests have also been made for violent and criminal behaviour during these protests, including racially motivated incidents.