UK Chancellor says 'intimidatory' Gaza protests have crossed a line

Jeremy Hunt said that while he personally had not found the protests worrying, that was not true for everyone in society

Jeremy Hunt said he heard from Jewish people who were afraid to leave their homes during the rallies. UK Parliament / AFP
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British Chancellor Jeremy Hunt said on Sunday "intimidatory" pro-Palestine protests against the war in Gaza have crossed a line

Mr Hunt called for the British virtue of tolerance to be restored, adding he had heard from Jewish people who were fearful to leave their homes during the demonstrations.

The Chancellor's remarks come on the same day Jonathan Hall KC, the independent reviewer of counter-terrorism legislation, said he had not seen “this level of open extremism” in Britain since being appointed in 2019.

“It is the public brazenness of hate directed towards people by category, in particular Zionists, or Israelis, or Jews," he told the Mail On Sunday.

The UK is seen as a “legitimate target for terrorists” because it is allied with the US and Israel, Mr Hall added.

Their comments come after Prime Minister Rishi Sunak warned on Friday that democracy is being targeted by extremists, and that there were “forces here at home trying to tear us apart”.

In an address to the nation from Downing Street, the Conservative Party leader urged protesters to prevent extremists from infiltrating their ranks and warned of more stringent policing.

Hundreds protest outside the UK parliament demanding a ceasefire – video

Hundreds protest outside the UK parliament demanding a ceasefire

Hundreds protest outside the UK parliament demanding a ceasefire

Mr Sunak said demonstrators should be able to “march and protest with passion” but “cannot call for violent jihad” or “call for the eradication of a state or any kind of hatred or anti-Semitism”.

The Chancellor on Sunday said that while he personally had not found the protests worrying, that was not true for everyone in society.

“I have had very disturbing emails, particularly from Jewish friends who say that some of this behaviour makes them frightened to go out of their front door,” he told GB News.

“And that is why it is right to take action.”

He said the Prime Minister had been clear in his speech that “there are things that the government needs to do”.

“What he was really saying is that we have a traditional British virtue of tolerance,” the Cabinet minister continued.

“What we have seen in the last few months is a line being crossed with protests that are intimidatory that have led to some people feeling it is not safe to go out of their homes … and that is not the British way.

“We have asked the police to use the powers they have. We also said that we will legislate to give them additional powers.

“We said that we will expel people who crossed that line if they are foreign nationals and we will proscribe organisations that promote those kinds of behaviours, like Hizb ut-Tahrir.

“But we are also very clear this is about our whole country. This is not just something for the government.

“This is about restoring that traditional British virtue of tolerance, understanding that the way you get change in this country is through peaceful protest within the law.

“But if those protests are within the law, of course, we will always support people’s right to do them.”

Protest outside UK Parliament calls for Gaza ceasefire – in pictures

Pro-Palestine protests continued across England and Wales over the weekend, with demonstrations held against Barclays Bank because of its historic ties with Israel.

Protesters marching to a Barclays branch in central London on Saturday used the controversial “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” chant, which some critics say calls for the eradication of the state of Israel.

A national march through the capital, organised by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, is planned for Saturday March 9.

The demonstrators are calling for an immediate ceasefire in the war in the Gaza Strip, a conflict that was sparked by Hamas’s attacks on Israel on October 7 in which they killed around 1,200 people and took around 250 hostages.

Israel’s retaliatory strikes have left more than 30,000 Palestinians dead, according to the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry.

As part of its efforts to clamp down on extremism following the Prime Minister’s address, the government is planning to prevent hate preachers from entering the UK.

According to reports, the new plans will see identified extremists added to visa warning lists and refused entry to the UK.

It is understood ministers believe they can make greater use of powers to block people from entering the UK if they are seen as “non-conducive to the public good”.

Typically used to prevent people who pose known security concerns from coming to the UK, it is understood the new plans will extend the powers to include those preaching racism, incitement or using intimidation or violence to undermine the democratic process.

Updated: March 03, 2024, 8:12 PM