The Metropolitan Police has given the green light for a pro-Palestinian protest to take place on Armistice Day, despite the Prime Minister and Home Secretary urging for its cancellation. With fears of potential trouble and memorial defacement, the authorities are grappling with the dilemma of upholding the right to protest while ensuring public safety. Here, we delve into the controversy surrounding this planned demonstration and the challenges faced by the police.
Organizers of the pro-Palestinian march have emphasized that the demonstration will be located far away from the Cenotaph, which epitomizes the solemnity of Armistice Day. The intended route stretches from Hyde Park to the US embassy, and it is scheduled to commence after the traditional 11 am silence observed nationwide. While these assurances aim to maintain an atmosphere of respect, concerns persist regarding the potential for splinter groups and troublemakers to hijack the event.
Sir Mark Rowley, the head of the Metropolitan Police, has defended the decision to allow the protest, citing the absence of legal grounds to ban a static gathering. However, he acknowledged that if there were indications of a march moving towards the rally, the police could consider imposing a ban. Such a measure would require demonstrating an extremely high threshold of risk, and it has been employed only once in the past decade. The police face the intricate task of balancing the right to protest against the responsibility to protect public safety and the sanctity of memorial sites.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Home Secretary Suella Braverman have expressed strong opposition to the protest, arguing that it should be stopped due to concerns over potential disturbances and the desecration of memorial sites. The home secretary affirmed the government’s stance, stating that anyone attempting to vandalize the Cenotaph should be swiftly apprehended and face legal consequences. Their position underlines the delicate nature of the situation, as the government grapples with the challenge of maintaining law and order without stifling freedom of expression.
Rishi Sunak, Chancellor of the Exchequer, described the march as “provocative and disrespectful” while highlighting the significant risk of memorials being desecrated. These concerns are not unfounded, as in 2011, an English Defence League march was banned due to the potential for serious public disorder and criminal damage. The Metropolitan Police can seek the home secretary’s approval for a ban under the Public Order Act when there is a genuine threat of disruption to the community or severe criminal activities.
Reflecting on previous protests, the Met commissioner expressed apprehension about splinter groups and troublemakers but noted that the arrest numbers were relatively low compared to the vast number of attendees. Refusing to engage in political debates or endorse comments labelling the protests as “hate marches,” Sir Mark Rowley reiterated the importance of evaluating the operational facts as his primary responsibility.
Amidst the backdrop of ongoing tensions in the Middle East, the planned pro-Palestinian protest on Armistice Day continues to divide opinions. Striking a delicate balance between the right to protest and the preservation of public safety remains a daunting task for the authorities. As the event draws closer, the Metropolitan Police will closely monitor intelligence and adapt their measures accordingly to ensure minimal disruption to remembrance and armistice events.