Suella Braverman accuses police of 'playing favourites' over pro-Palestine march

The Home Secretary said does not believe that the marches are 'merely a cry for help for Gaza'

Protesters hold up placards and wave Palestinian flags at the gates of Downing Street after taking part in a 'March For Palestine'. AFP
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Home Secretary Suella Braverman has accused police of “double standards” and “playing favourites” after refusing to ban a pro-Palestinian march on Armistice Day.

Ms Braverman said she does not believe that the marches are “merely a cry for help for Gaza” and that “pro-Palestinian mobs” are “largely ignored, even when “clearly breaking the law”.

Her comments have been widely criticised, including by Transport Secretary Mark Harper, who said on Thursday he disagreed with Suella Braverman's claim, telling Times Radio: "I think all police forces are focused on upholding the law without fear or favour.

"That's what they do."

The government wants the protest to be banned, but Metropolitan Police chief Sir Mark Rowley has said the law will only allow him to do so only in “extreme cases” and the conditions have not been met.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak called for an emergency meeting with Sir Mark about the march planned in London, saying he would hold the Scotland Yard boss “accountable” if there was trouble.

In The Times on Thursday, Mrs Braverman said: “I do not believe that these marches are merely a cry for help for Gaza.

“They are an assertion of primacy by certain groups – particularly Islamists – of the kind we are more used to seeing in Northern Ireland.

“Also disturbingly reminiscent of Ulster are the reports that some of Saturday's march group organisers have links to terrorist groups, including Hamas.”

Mrs Braverman claimed that “there is a perception that senior police officers play favourites when it comes to protesters”.

She said: “Right-wing and nationalist protesters who engage in aggression are rightly met with a stern response yet pro-Palestinian mobs displaying almost identical behaviour are largely ignored, even when clearly breaking the law?”

However, Sir Tom Winsor, who worked with several home secretaries when he worked as chief inspector for the force from 2012 to 2022, said Ms Braverman was wrong to intervene.

Speaking to Radio 4’s Today Show on Thursday, he said: “It's unusual. It's unprecedented. It's contrary to the spirit of the ancient constitutional settlement with the police. I think it's contrary to the letter of that constitutional settlement.

“And it is highly regrettable that it has been made. These political objections can be made by many, many people, but a Home Secretary of all people is not the person to do this.”

Tory peer Lord Greenhalgh, a former deputy mayor for policing in London, suggested Mrs Braverman's comments had crossed a line.

“I just don't think that's a reasonable way for a home secretary to behave,” he told BBC's Newsnight.

He said she should “have the row in private” with the police, rather than in the media.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan said Ms Braverman's words were "inaccurate, inflammatory and irresponsible".

Speaking to Radio 4 on Thursday, he added: "It reinforces stereotypes. It makes a sweeping generalisation. And I think we've going to be incredibly careful.

"Are we really saying that politicians, whether it's Home Secretary, or myself, or the Prime Minister, should be telling the police which protests to allow and disallow? What's next? Telling the police who to investigate, who to arrest?"

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said the Home Secretary "is out of control".

She said Mrs Braverman's article “is a highly irresponsible, dangerous attempt to undermine respect for police at a sensitive time, to rip up operational independence & to inflame community tensions”.

“No other Home Secretary of any party would ever do this.”

Pro-Palestinian protests in London – in pictures

Ms Braverman's article is her latest high-profile intervention, with ministers in recent days seeking to distance themselves from some of her comments.

She has described the protests as “hate marches” and also claimed some people were homeless as a “lifestyle choice”.

Following talks on Wednesday, Mr Sunak said the planned protest on Armistice Day is “not just disrespectful but offends our heartfelt gratitude to the memory of those who gave so much so that we may live in freedom and peace today” and “part of that freedom is the right to peacefully protest”.

But the meeting had appeared to ease some of the tension between the government and the police, before Mrs Braverman's article.

Mr Sunak said police had confirmed the march would not be near the Cenotaph on Whitehall and that the timings would not conflict with remembrance events.

But the Prime Minister added: “There remains the risk of those who seek to divide society using this weekend as a platform to do so.

“That is what I discussed with the Metropolitan Police Commissioner in our meeting.

“The commissioner has committed to keep the Met Police's posture under constant review based on the latest intelligence about the nature of the protests.”

Suella Braverman - in pictures

There have been fears that breakaway groups from the main march and counter-protests by far-right groups could lead to violence.

Earlier, the Prime Minister said the Met chief had insisted he could “ensure that we safeguard remembrance for the country this weekend as well as keep the public safe”.

“Now, my job is to hold him accountable for that,” Mr Sunak said ahead of the meeting with Sir Mark.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan said Mrs Braverman's words were “inaccurate, inflammatory and irresponsible”.

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Alistair Carmichael said: “Suella Braverman is running a Conservative Party leadership campaign, not the Home Office.

“The Home Secretary's desire to stoke divisions and ramp up tensions in this way is irresponsible and dangerous.”

The Met had urged march organisers to “urgently reconsider” the event on Saturday because of a growing risk of violence. The pro-Palestinian coalition behind it has refused to call it off.

The force could request the power to ban the event under Section 13 of the Public Order Act 1986, however, that would only apply if there was a threat of public disorder that could not be controlled by other measures.

The secretary of one of the groups behind the march, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, was working for Labour until this week, The Sun reported.

Ben Soffa had been the party's head of digital organising, but he said he was now “off to explore new opportunities”.

A Labour source said: “We're grateful to Ben for all his work for the party and wish him all the best for the future.”

The planned route for the London march goes from Hyde Park – about a mile from the war memorial in Whitehall – to the US embassy in Vauxhall, south of the Thames.

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 occur at the Cenotaph in Westminster the following day.

In an indication of the challenges faced by police, the Met said that since the start of the Israel-Gaza war on October 7, there have been 188 arrests involving hate crimes or linked to protests in London.

Commander Paul Trevers said: “This is a challenging time for communities in London.

“We continue to see a very concerning rise in both antisemitic and Islamophobic hate crimes. This is absolutely unacceptable.”

Updated: November 09, 2023, 10:03 AM