Sunak considering tougher protest laws after Armistice Day violence
Rishi Sunak could give police greater powers to tackle protests following the Armistice Day clashes which have left Suella Braverman out of a job.
She was sacked as home secretary after she was accused of stoking tensions, with pressure mounting on the Prime Minister to sack her as part of a ministerial reshuffle.
Mr Sunak is looking to tighten the laws to make it easier to ban marches and prosecute those glorifying terrorism, according to several newspapers.
He looks set to press Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley to avoid a repeat of Saturday’s ugly scenes in London when he meets the police chief in the coming days.
Defence minister James Heappey said “clearly the law needs to be strengthened” to prevent protests where “hateful” messages are displayed or chanted.
Weeks of pro-Palestinian protests in cities across the country, plus the ugly scenes as a far-right counter-demonstration attempted to reach the Cenotaph on Saturday, appear to have convinced ministers of the need to act.
Mr Heappey stressed that the police have operational independence to decide how to respond to protests, but he said the UK Government has to decide whether current laws are suitable.
“I think it is entirely right that the Government would be looking at whether or not there are things that need to be done legislatively in order to give the police greater powers to police those protests better,” he told Sky News.
He added that “if it looks like protests are happening again and again, and that people are turning up each week carrying placards and shouting chants that are hateful” then “clearly the law needs to be strengthened to avoid that”.
Mr Sunak has said both far-right “thugs” and “those singing antisemitic chants and brandishing pro-Hamas signs and clothing” must face “the full and swift force of the law”.
Mrs Braverman had doubled down on calls for pro-Palestinian protests to be stopped as she warned that London’s streets are “being polluted by hate, violence and antisemitism” and hit out at “sick” chants and placards at Saturday’s march.
Her remarks on Sunday made little mention of far-right counter-protesters she has been accused of emboldening by previously speaking of pro-Palestinian “mobs” and suggestion the police were biased in the lenient way the “hate marches” had been dealt with.
Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper blamed the unrest on Mrs Braverman’s “appalling and unprecedented attack” on the police’s impartiality and her “deliberate” stoking of tensions.
The Metropolitan Police said seven men have been charged with offences including assault on an emergency worker, criminal damage and possession of an offensive weapon.
Officers made 145 arrests – mostly counter-protesters – and nine officers were injured as they prevented a violent crowd reaching the Cenotaph on Saturday.
Police said that, while the pro-Palestinian march did not see the sort of violence carried out by far-right groups, investigations into serious offences relating to antisemitism and hate crimes continue.
Mr Sunak will urge the Met to immediately arrest protesters seen using antisemitic slogans, The Times reported, after images of marchers wearing Hamas-style headbands and signs with the slogan “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free”.
His crackdown could also see laws around fireworks, smoke bombs and flares tightened up and new laws to prevent protesters from climbing on statues, according to The Sun.
The threshold at which police can ban marches due to safety concerns would be lowered to take into account the “cumulative effect” of weeks of marches.
Sir Mark had resisted political pressure to block the Gaza march coinciding with Remembrance events, saying the scale of potential trouble fell short of the high threshold the law demands for a ban.
Mr Sunak has repeated his threat to hold the Met chief “accountable” for that decision at their forthcoming meeting.
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