UK's Rishi Sunak calls for unity against extremists pushing hate

Prime Minister says 'our democracy itself is a target' as public figures feel the rising threat of violence

Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak makes a statement at Downing Street in London.
Powered by automated translation

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has called on the UK to draw a line against the poison of extremism as he warned the country was being torn apart by rising domestic tension.

During comments to media outside Downing Street on Friday, Mr Sunak said there had been a shocking increase in intimidation, threats and outright violence since the outbreak of the Israel-Gaza last October.

“Now our democracy itself is a target,” he said. “I need to speak to you all this evening because this situation has gone on long enough.

“I fear that our great achievement in building the world’s most successful multi-ethnic, multi-faith democracy is being deliberately undermined.”

He said a number of extremist groups were feeding off each other to weaponise the evils of anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim ideology.

“Islamist extremists and far rights groups are spreading a poison, that poison is extremism,” he said.

“The faith of Islam, peacefully practised by millions of our fellow citizens, is emphatically not the same thing as the extremist political ideology of Islamism, which aims to separate Muslims from the rest of society.

“They are equally desperate to pretend that their violence is somehow justified, when actually these groups are two sides of the same extremist coin.”

To the sound of protesters shouting outside the Downing Street gate, Mr Sunak said that extremism must not be allowed to take hold and destroy freedoms.

The government is pushing through measure to improve security of MPs amid heightened concerns about public representatives becoming targets in large-scale protests and other actions.

“Council meetings and local events have been stormed,” he said. “MPs do not feel safe in their homes. Long-standing parliamentary conventions have been upended because of safety concerns.”

Mr Sunak cited the outcome of the Rochdale by-election, which was won George Galloway. Mr Galloway was elected MP for Rochdale on Friday following a campaign in which he focused on the war in Gaza.

“It’s beyond alarming that last night, the Rochdale by-election returned a candidate that dismisses the horror of what happened on October 7, who glorifies Hezbollah and is endorsed by Nick Griffin, the racist former leader of the BNP,” he said.

Mr Galloway refuted the charges, countering that Mr Sunak was treading a dangerous road and that the Workers Party is the “antidote to extremism”.

He added that the Prime Minister was playing a “very dangerous game” that could drive young Muslims on to the “rocks of extremism” after his speech.

His win in the Greater Manchester seat, in which he secured almost 40 per cent of the vote in a constituency that has a strong Muslim population, had the main political parties “panicking a bit”, he said.

“It is a very dangerous game the political leaders are playing.”

A large number of protests are expected across the country at the weekend, with some demonstrators expected to gather in central London to demand a ceasefire in Gaza.

Mr Sunak said some of the protests over the war in Gaza, triggered after Hamas attacked Israelis on October 7, had been hijacked by extremist groups and called on demonstrators not to allow this to happen.

“You have a chance in the coming weeks to show that you can protest decently, peacefully and with empathy for your fellow citizens,” he said.

“Let us prove these extremists wrong and show them that even when we disagree.”

By the end of March, the government is expected to come up with a new framework for tackling extremism, ranging from bolstering the counter-extremism programme Prevent to ensuring police take a more robust operational stance tackling actions that are banned by law.

Keir Starmer, leader of the opposition, backed Mr Sunak and said the message of unity was one that all leaders should embrace in the face of intimidation.

Other opposition leaders said the Prime Minister's own party contained leading figures that were themselves creating divisions.

Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey said Mr Sunak was the wrong messenger to make the case.

“The British people will take no lessons from a Prime Minister and Conservative Party who have sowed the seeds of division for years,” he said.

Election year 2024

The preparations for the address had put Westminster on a brief alert for a general election. The Prime Minister spent the day in Scotland, giving a speech to the Scottish Conservative conference in the afternoon.

A contest to elect a new UK government is widely expected to take place this year, with an election legally having to be held by January 2025.

The Tories are well behind Labour in opinion polls, with some putting Keir Starmer’s party as much as 20 points in front.

Updated: March 02, 2024, 12:13 AM