Health Secretary Steve Barclay has said it would be “provocative” to hold a pro-Palestinian rally on Armistice Day as he revealed there would be “ongoing discussions” within the Cabinet over the planned protest.
Mr Barclay said while he felt “strongly” about the right to protest, next Saturday (11 November) was the “wrong day” to gather in London to call for a ceasefire in Gaza.
The health secretary was asked for his views about the protest after Sir Mark Rowley, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, confirmed it would go ahead because the “legal threshold” to stop it on security grounds “had not been met”.
Sir Mark said people “should be very reassured that we’re going to keep this away from the remembrance and armistice events” but added that legally, there was “no mechanism to ban a gathering, a static protest”.
Asked by Sky’s Kay Burley what he made of Sir Mark’s assessment, the health secretary said: “It is provocative to have protests like this on that day; I think there a lot of other days in the year when protests can happen.”
Rishi Sunak has also branded the planned march as “provocative and disrespectful” and believes it shouldn’t be allowed.
He wrote to Sir Mark and said there was “a clear and present risk” that memorials such as the Cenotaph “could be desecrated”.
Organisers have said the protest will be “well away” from the monument, instead going from Hyde Park to the US embassy, and that it won’t start until after the 11am silence to remember people who died in wars.
Police chief explains why protest will go ahead
Police can ask the home secretary to approve a ban under the Public Order Act if they believe there will be serious public disorder, serious criminal damage, or serious disruption to the community.
The Met chief admitted concern about “splinter groups” and “troublemakers” but said arrests at previous protests were small considering the tens of thousands attending.
He said the force would do “everything in our power” to ensure the Armistice and Remembrance events in London this weekend will “pass without disruption”.
In a statement released by the force, he said: “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.
“If over the next few days the intelligence evolves, and we reach a threshold where there is a real threat of serious disorder we will approach the home secretary.”
Debate on protest not over
Mr Barclay said that while it was “important we have the right to protest”, Remembrance Day was not the correct moment.
He said there would be “ongoing discussions” after the Met gave the go-ahead for a demonstration calling for a ceasefire in Gaza to take place on Armistice Day.
He told Sky News: “I think there’ll be ongoing discussions on this.
“There is a legal threshold and the commissioner is of the view that that legal threshold has not been met.
“Obviously, the Home Office and colleagues will discuss that over the course of the day.”