Pro-Palestine march route: Unity call as London braces for Armistice Day demo

Far right counter-demonstrators storm Whitehall ahead of the event

Protesters gather for the 'National March For Palestine' in central London. AFP
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Latest: Thousands of pro-Palestinian supporters march in London as far-right clash with police

Thousands of pro-Palestinian demonstrators set off in London on Armistice Day for what is expected to be one of the largest political marches in British history.

Scores of people met in Hyde Park mid-morning on Saturday, ahead of the National March for Palestine, for a “stewards' meeting”.

They were all in high-vis jackets, while many also wore keffiyehs, Palestinian scarves.

Ahead of the march, there were violent scenes elsewhere in central London when more than 1,000 far-right counter-demonstrators approached Whitehall. Hundreds broke through police lines to reach the Cenotaph war memorial by 11am on Armistice Day. Some were reported to have then headed in the direction of Marble Arch.

Meanwhile, there was a heavy police presence at nearby Wellington Arch, where more than 10 police vans were parked, including vehicles from Lancashire and Cumbria constabularies.

Protesters gathered at Park Lane at around noon for the march, which started at 12.45pm and is due to end at the US Embassy, south of the Thames in Vauxhall.

The organisers urged those attending to use Bond Street, Oxford Street and Hyde Park Corner Underground stations as well as Marble Arch to ease congestion.

The route, which was confirmed on Wednesday, will move south along Park Lane, before passing through Wellington Arch at Hyde Park Corner.

It will then head around the back of Buckingham Palace, through Victoria and along Vauxhall Bridge Road.

Crossing Vauxhall Bridge, the marchers will enter Nine Elms, finishing at the US Embassy.

Met Police say no reason to ban the protest

Metropolitan Police commissioner Sir Mark Rowley resisted pressure from politicians, including Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, to try to block the gathering.

He said intelligence surrounding the potential for serious disorder this weekend did not meet the threshold to apply for a ban and insisted he would not act outside the law.

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.

“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.

Protests were, however, banned at several train stations, with orders in place prohibiting trespassory assembly at Waterloo, Victoria and Charing Cross between 10am and 11pm on Saturday.

Transport Secretary Mark Harper said he granted consent for transport police to make the orders so people can travel "free from intimidation".

He said in a statement: "Armistice Day is a moment of solemn national reflection in remembrance of those who have given their lives in service of our country. It's important that people can use our rail network to safely travel, free from intimidation.

"That's why I have granted consent for the British Transport Police to make orders under Section 14A of the Public Order Act 1986 prohibiting planned protests at various London stations today, meaning anyone taking part will be subject to arrest."

Home Secretary Suella Braverman remains under pressure from all sides after accusing the police of bias when they resisted pressure to ban the pro-Palestinian march.

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

Organiser of the Armistice Day event gives his support for the march

Richard Hughes, the legal trustee of the Western Front Association, backed the march, underscoring the charity's commitment to free speech and democratic values, even as government officials expressed concerns over potential disruptions to Armistice Day commemorations.

“I think a lot of people are trying to whip this up,” said Mr Hughes, whose charity holds a commemoration at the Cenotaph on 11 November for the casualties of the First World War.

“The police are not going to let anyone near the Cenotaph. We are a democratic organisation that commemorates those who fought for democracy, so free speech is important.”

“Some of the older members might think that it is not appropriate [to protest on Armistice Day] but it is very hard to be blind to what is going on in the Middle East.”

Protest organisers say they will steer away from 'sensitive areas'

Organised by an alliance including the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Friends of Al Aqsa and the Stop the War Coalition, the march is expected to call for a ceasefire in Gaza.

The coalition has made clear its intent to avoid areas of sensitivity on Armistice Day, saying marchers will not go near the Cenotaph or Whitehall, where official remembrance commemorations will be held on the day.

Ben Jamal, director of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, said: “Some time ago, we indicated that on the 11th [of November], we would not be going anywhere near [the Cenotaph] … we knew that would be inappropriate.”

'We police without fear or favour'

Metropolitan Police Deputy Assistant Commissioner Laurence Taylor said officers will ensure people are kept safe.

“Our job is to ensure that we police without fear or favour, that we balance the rights of everybody, be that protesters, counter-protesters, or people living or coming into London,” he said.

“And our job this weekend is to ensure that people are kept safe, and that is what my focus is on.”

More than 100 arrests for offences including supporting proscribed organisations and serious hate crime have been made over the last four major Palestinian protests, according to the Met Police.

Mr Taylor said that it will be a “very difficult weekend for policing”.

“We have got a significant march taking place,” he said.

“We are aware there will be counter-protests, as well as a lot of people who would ordinarily come to London to mark their respect on Armistice Day, on Remembrance Sunday.

“That means we need a large and robust policing plan in place.”

The number of officers on duty in London will be double the usual amount, with 1,850 officers on Saturday and 1,375 on Sunday.

An exclusion zone will be put in place, using metal barriers, covering Whitehall, Horse Guards Parade, the Westminster Abbey Field of Remembrance and other relevant areas, to prevent those on the march from entering.

The Met said the march and all speeches must end at 5pm, and a Section 60 and 60AA power will be in place covering Westminster and parts of Wandsworth and Lambeth between 10am on Saturday and 1am on Sunday.

This provides officers with additional powers to search anyone in the area for weapons, and requires people in the area to remove face coverings that are believed to be concealing their identity.

A dispersal zone will be in place covering key central London locations including Trafalgar Square and Piccadilly Circus.

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 also take place on Saturday.

Hundreds were already gathered along Whitehall on Saturday to pay their respects at the Cenotaph.

Several people were seen holding Union flags and a small crowd had gathered around Winston Churchill's statue in Parliament Square, where there was a heavy police presence.

The Cenotaph will have a dedicated 24-hour police presence which will remain in place until the conclusion of Remembrance events on Sunday.

Updated: November 11, 2023, 2:50 PM