Counter protesters to pro-Palestine march will be allowed around Cenotaph, Met Police say

Counter protesters to the pro-Palestinian march in London on Saturday will be allowed into the area around the Cenotaph, the Met Police has said.

Speaking at a media briefing, deputy assistant commissioner Laurence Taylor said the Met had information that “large numbers of counter protesters" would be travelling to the capital with the aim of "confronting" those on a march in support of Palestine.

Asked why counter protesters would be allowed around the monument, Mr Taylor said the force “don’t anticipate any disorder will come from that group” individually.

It comes hours after the Met said that officers would form a "ring of steel" around the Cenotaph this weekend in a high-stakes operation to head off potential clashes when hundreds of thousands of Pro-Palestine protesters descend on the capital as Armistice Day parades take place.

Police chiefs have cancelled leave, extended overtime and drafted in 1,000 more officers from across Britain to bolster their ranks amid fears that violence could flare.

On Saturday a total of 1,850 officers will be deployed and on Sunday 1,375. An exclusion zone will be imposed covering the cenotaph and around Whitehall. Marchers from the Pro-Palestine march will be banned from these areas, Scotland Yard said in an update.

The Israeli and US embassies will also be off limits and protected by officers.

Met specialist public order teams have been assessing the risk of disorder and have drafted plans to keep rival groups apart.

Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley has assessed that he does not have grounds to ban the Pro-Palestine march based on the intelligence he has received.

Officers will be monitoring social media and weighing up any intent by protesters to carry out criminal actions. That threat has not been deemed great enough for a ban but Scotland Yard has pledged to crack down on anyone flouting the law.

The commissioner said he did not rule out action if protesters disrupted the remembrance events saying the force would "protect locations and events of national importance at all costs".

One of the organisers of Saturday's march demanding a ceasefire in Gaza predicted on Friday that more than half a million people will attend the event.

The Stop the War coalition said coach companies across the country are reporting that all their vehicles are fully booked, with waiting lists in some areas.

John Rees, from the group, said the protest in London will be "truly historic", exceeding the half a million he believes joined a previous protest in the capital.

The protest is due to start off in Hyde Park a few hours after a two-minute silence will be held at the Cenotaph in Westminster for fallen servicemen and women.

The Met faces further challenges from the far-Right, with fears growing that members will clash with protesters. Some activists associated with football violence have pledged to head to central London to protect the cenotaph from Pro Palestine marchers.

Sir Mark said he could not ban Saturday's demonstration simply because people felt it should not take place. He has been under pressure from Home Secretary Suella Braverman who accused the Met of "playing favourites" by not banning the march.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has also indicated that the commissioner will be held accountable if violence flares.

He said: "The laws created by Parliament are clear. There is no absolute power to ban protest, therefore there will be a protest this weekend.

"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 use of the power to block moving protests is "incredibly rare" and must be reserved for cases where there is intelligence to suggest a "real threat" of serious disorder.

But he said organisers of Saturday's march had shown "complete willingness to stay away from the Cenotaph and Whitehall and have no intention of disrupting the nation's remembrance events".

He added: "Should this change, we've been clear we will use powers and conditions available to us to protect locations and events of national importance at all costs."

Officers also fear more than a thousand, including far-Right activists will flock to London making policing more problematic.

One group, named "Football Lads Against Extremism", claims veterans have reached out and asked for their support "due to the threat from the far left and pro-Palestine supporters to disrupt the Remembrance Day parade".

They are calling on "all football lads up and down the country to join us in standing shoulder to shoulder with our veterans that fought for our freedom".

English Defence League founder Tommy Robinson has also rallied his supporters to join him on Saturday.

Robinson, whose real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, wrote on X on Thursday shortly after he was reinstated to the social media platform: "Saturday 11/11/11 London, your country needs you."

In a video, Robinson spoke of "a mass of men who are willing to stand for their country".

Jonathan Hall KC, the independent reviewer of terror legislation, warned that there were concerns of "an extreme Right-wing terrorist backlash" if Saturday's demonstration against the conflict in the Middle East goes ahead.

Previous rallies, including one outside the Israeli embassy, have seen officers injured with fireworks, protesters using extremist imagery and there have been multiple arrests for anti-Semitic chanting.