A pro-Palestine protest in central London as Remembrance events are held would be inappropriate, security minister Tom Tugendhat has said.
Tens of thousands of demonstrators are planning to take to the streets, calling for an immediate ceasefire in Israel’s attacks on Gaza, on Armistice Day on Saturday November 11.
There are fears the march could disrupt the two-minute silence commemorating the war dead and the daytime and evening Festival of Remembrance at the Royal Albert Hall, with the latter performance usually attended by royals.
Mr Tugendhat told BBC Breakfast on Friday morning: “Let’s be clear, the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign has said that they want to march on Remembrance Sunday, and that is a matter of great concern to me.”
Mr Tugendhat, a veteran who served in Afghanistan and Iraq, added: “It is a moment where we remember those we lost, and I think for the whole country the Cenotaph is sacred ground and the idea that on a day like Remembrance Day you would have a protest going past it, I don’t think that is acceptable.
“That is why I have written to the Mayor of London, and to Westminster Council, and to the Metropolitan Police asking them to look very carefully at the powers that they have and to consider what options they have available, because personally I don’t think this is an appropriate moment for a protest.”
While the police will be responsible for on-the-day monitoring of the demonstration, the Home Secretary could grant them extra powers to prevent it from interrupting remembrance ceremonies.
The Public Order Act 1986 allows Suella Braverman to ban protests from certain areas if the Met believes there is a disorder risk.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan said Mr Tugendhat should stop “posturing”, telling the PA news agency: “If this security minister knew his brief, he would know the only person in the country that can ban marches is the Home Secretary – his colleague in cabinet.”
Mr Khan said it was “incredibly important” that demonstrators understood the importance of Remembrance events, adding that the Met Police was speaking to protest organisers to “make sure they stay away from the Cenotaph”.
He added: “I’d encourage the organisers to work with the police to stay away from the Cenotaph.”
The Met has vowed to use all its powers to stop the disruption of commemorations and said officers will be deployed across the capital that weekend as part of a “significant policing and security operation”.
It said protest groups have not indicated plans to march on Remembrance Sunday on November 12 but a significant demonstration is expected on the Saturday.
We definitely will not be at the Cenotaph. We understand the sensitivity of the date
Demo organisers have pledged to avoid the Whitehall area where the Cenotaph war memorial – the focus of national remembrance events – is located.
The Met added: “We’re absolutely committed to ensuring the safety and security of anyone attending commemorative events.”
The high-profile Remembrance Sunday outdoor service at the Cenotaph is attended by royals, senior politicians and veterans and is a poignant tribute to those who lost their lives in conflict.
Armistice Day on November 11 is the anniversary of the end of the First World War and is also known as Remembrance Day.
Friends of Al-Aqsa (FOA) is preparing to bus protesters from Leicester to London on the Saturday and said it expects hundreds of thousands of people to take part in the demonstration, organised by a coalition of groups.
Spokesman Ismail Patel said: “We definitely will not be at the Cenotaph. We understand the sensitivity of the date.”
Met Police Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley said he is “deeply concerned” about the effects of protests on day-to-day local policing and admitted he may have to look to other forces to help deal with the ongoing action.
“We are starting to look at what point we need to look for mutual aid from other forces and change our approach to resourcing this to make it sustainable,” he told the London Assembly.
He said that, since Hamas attacked Jews in Israel on October 7, successive weekend protests in central London have been policed by 1,000 officers, then 1,500 and then 2,000.
Police made around 70 arrests at the protests and almost 100 more for hate crimes, with anti-Jewish hate crime up 14-fold and anti-Muslim hate crime up threefold on last year, he said.