10 November 2023

Sunak issues plea for ‘unity’ amid tensions over Gaza march on Armistice Day

10 November 2023

Rishi Sunak issued a plea for “unity” amid tensions over a pro-Palestinian march set to go ahead on the day the UK marks the end of the First World War.

Organisers of the demonstration calling for a ceasefire between Hamas and Israel anticipate more than 500,000 people will join what is expected to be one of the largest political marches in British history on Saturday.

Some politicians called for the protest in London to be stopped, with the Prime Minister branding it “disrespectful” on a day meant for solemn remembrance.

Those who wish to protest can do so, but they must do so respectfully and peacefully

Home Secretary Suella Braverman added to the tensions by writing an article – unauthorised by Downing Street – accusing the police of bias after they resisted pressure to ban the pro-Palestinian march.

After her comments were widely criticised and sparked calls for Mr Sunak to sack her, Mrs Braverman on Friday expressed her “full backing” for the Metropolitan Police at a meeting with Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley.

On the eve of the mass protest, the Prime Minister urged those taking part to do so “respectfully and peacefully” and to respect Armistice Day commemorations.

“This act of remembrance is fundamental to who we are as a country and I want to reassure those wishing to pay their respects, attend services and travel that they can and should do so,” he said in a statement.

“It is because of those who fought for this country and for the freedom we cherish that those who wish to protest can do so, but they must do so respectfully and peacefully.

Remembrance weekend is sacred for us all and should be a moment of unity, of our shared British values and of solemn reflection.”

He said the Met “assure us they are taking all steps to ensure Remembrance services are safeguarded from any protests”, that those will only be allowed far away from Remembrance events, and that the Cenotaph in Whitehall has been placed in an exclusion zone.

A number of protests planned for train stations, which were “designed to disrupt and intimidate”, have been banned, Mr Sunak added.

A day to remind ourselves in these fraught modern times, that peace is possible

Scotland Yard will deploy nearly 2,000 officers across central London in a major policing operation over the weekend.

There are concerns about the risk of counter-protests, particularly around the Cenotaph, even though the demonstration is not intended to go near the monument.

Sir Keir Starmer said Armistice Day should serve as a reminder “that peace is possible” even as it takes place against a backdrop of bloodshed in Israel and Gaza.

The Labour leader said: “In recent weeks and months, the devastating impact of war has been felt acutely. We see heartbreaking daily reminders of the suffering and loss it brings to friends, families and communities.

“It’s against this backdrop that we mark this year’s Armistice Day. A day to pause and honour all our service men and women who sacrifice so much for our great country. A day to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice. And a day to remind ourselves in these fraught modern times, that peace is possible.”

The planned route for the pro-Palestinian march – expected to be the biggest since the Israel-Hamas conflict erupted on October 7 – goes from Hyde Park to the US embassy in Vauxhall.

The Festival of Remembrance at the Royal Albert Hall, which will be attended by the King and Queen and other members of the royal family, will take place on Saturday.

Remembrance Sunday events will take place at the Cenotaph in Whitehall the following day.

Mrs Braverman is expected to take part in the service, amid speculation at Westminster that she could soon be moved by Mr Sunak in a ministerial reshuffle.

Mr Sunak continued to have confidence in her, Downing Street said on Friday, while it was still internally investigating the “details” of how her inflammatory article was published unaltered despite changes requested by No 10.

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