As a furious row erupted over the protest plans, the prime minister said the “right to remember, in peace and dignity, those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice” had to be protected. Home secretary Suella Braverman claimed it was unacceptable to “desecrate” the day with a “hate march” through London.
But the Labour mayor of London Sadiq Khan accused the government of playing politics over the “terrible tragedy” unfolding in Gaza, after organisers taking to the streets on November 11 said they had no plans to disrupt Remembrance weekend events.
The row began after the security minister wrote to the Metropolitan Police and Mr Khan asking them to look at halting the demonstrations. Tom Tugendhat – who said plans to hold the protest on a “day of grief” was “not an appropriate time” and “not an appropriate venue” – was later accused of “posturing” by Mr Khan, who said only the government had the power to ban marches.
And march organisers accused Mr Tugendhat of “at worst, an incitement to public disorder”.
In a sign that the government is ramping up its rhetoric against pro-Palestinian protests, Mr Sunak said there was a “clear and present risk” that the Cenotaph and other war memorials could be “desecrated” by the march next Saturday. “That would be an affront to the British public and the values we stand for,” he warned.
He also revealed he had asked Ms Braverman to support the Metropolitan Police “in doing everything necessary” to protect the sanctity of both Armistice Day and Remembrance Sunday.
She later joined him in denouncing the protest – expected to attract tens of thousands of protesters – saying it raised an “obvious risk of serious public disorder, violence and damage as well as giving offence to millions of decent British people”. “It is entirely unacceptable to desecrate Armistice Day with a hate march through London,” she added.
She also included a link to a previous occasion in which a home secretary agreed to a police request to ban a march.
Just hours after the row erupted, two people were arrested after police banned hundreds of pro-Palestine protesters from holding a sit-in at London’s King’s Cross station.
It came after a rare intervention from transport secretary Mark Harper, who stepped in to give British Transport Police the power to arrest campaigners under the Public Order Act over fears the protest could cause travel chaos.
Armistice Day, or Remembrance Day, held on November 11 every year, is a Saturday this year, with the traditional Remembrance Sunday services the following day. The Met Police have made clear there are no plans for marches on Remembrance Sunday. A significant demonstration is expected on the Saturday, however, as has been the case every Saturday since the Israel-Hamas conflict broke out.
The Met have said they will call in officers from other forces if necessary, to ensure Remembrance weekend is not disrupted by protests.
The comments from the PM and two senior ministers prompted fury. Mr Khan told The Independent: “I am dismayed that politics is being used in this terrible tragedy unfolding in the Middle East to divide opinion in Britain.”
He added that the right to protest is “an essential cornerstone of democracy”. “I urge lawful protesters not to dislodge public support by going near the Cenotaph. And of course I condemn any antisemitic voices or any disruption to the Cenotaph,” he said.
Ben Jamal, director of main organisers, Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PCS), told The Independent: “The attempts to frame the planned national demonstration on November 11, part of a cycle of weekly marches calling for a ceasefire, as disrespectful to Remembrance Day commemorations, is at best misinformed and at worst an incitement to public disorder.”
There were “no plans” to march near Whitehall or the Cenotaph, he said. “We are choosing a route designed to avoid those areas, in consultation with the Metropolitan Police. The march will also not begin until some significant time after the two minutes’ silence at 11am. This is a march calling for a ceasefire in order to stop the current slaughter in Gaza.
“To highlight this democratic action taking place on November 11, well away from Whitehall, as disrespectful is dangerous and disingenuous politicking that defames many hundreds of thousands of people who want the current violence to stop.”
BBC star Gary Lineker also hit out at Ms Braverman, saying “marching and calling for a ceasefire and peace so that more innocent children don’t get killed is not really the definition of a hate march”.
Labour peer Lord Sikka told The Independent Mr Sunak’s statement is a “dishonour to the memory of those who gave their lives”.
He said Remembrance weekend was a time to celebrate the “enormous sacrifices” made by British and Commonwealth servicemen and women and civilians “for the preservation of our freedoms”. “And that includes the right to dissent and the right to protest,” he added.
Labour MP and Afghanistan war veteran Clive Lewis, whose grandfather was a paratrooper in Normandy, said that generation did not risk their lives “so that jumped up second-rate politicians like Suella Braverman can whip up hate and authoritarianism”.
Yasmine Ahmed, UK director of Human Rights Watch, described it as “an attack on our democratic freedoms”.
But former Conservative leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith told The Independent: “People are entitled to protest but to do so on this day of all days, having already protested, looks like an attempt to hijack the day. They should hold back and, if they have to, choose another day.”
Former Tory minister Tobias Ellwood said: “Regardless of anyone’s views of the challenging situation unfolding in the Middle East, it would be highly inappropriate for any form of national demonstration to overshadow the nation’s customary moment of reflection where every community in the country pauses to give thanks for the sacrifice of for those who wore the uniform and those who wear it today.”
Simon Weston, the Falklands war veteran, said plans for a protest on Remembrance weekend were “hugely disrespectful”. He added: “They have the right to have a big march if they wish but not on Armistice weekend, and if they do on that weekend then they are doing it deliberately to inflame.”
Mr Khan accused ministers of “posturing”. 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.”
Mr Khan said it was “incredibly important” that demonstrators understood the importance of Remembrance events, adding that the Met Police was speaking to protest organisers to “make sure they stay away from the Cenotaph”.
A Labour spokesperson said the party respected the right to protest, but added: “We support the police in whatever action is needed to ensure events across Remembrance weekend are not disrupted... that the Cenotaph and other war memorials are respected, and that protests do not take place around Remembrance Sunday events.”