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Sunak to hold Met chief ‘accountable’ for giving go-ahead to Gaza rally

Rishi Sunak said he will hold the Metropolitan Police Commissioner ‘accountable’ for his decision to greenlight a Gaza rally on Armistice Day (Joe Giddens/PA)
Rishi Sunak said he will hold the Metropolitan Police Commissioner ‘accountable’ for his decision to greenlight a Gaza rally on Armistice Day (Joe Giddens/PA)

Rishi Sunak has said he will hold the Metropolitan Police Commissioner “accountable” for his decision to greenlight a “disrespectful” pro-Palestinian demonstration to take place on Armistice Day.

The Prime Minister is meeting Sir Mark Rowley to discuss the issue on Wednesday, with Downing Street insisting he will be “seeking assurances” that the force’s approach is “robust” rather than trying to put pressure on the Met chief.

But Mr Sunak was accused of “cowardice” for “picking a fight” with the police by Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer.

Sir Mark has resisted calls to try to block the march calling for a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip in London on Saturday.

He said intelligence surrounding the potential for serious disorder this weekend does not meet the threshold to apply to prohibit the march.

Speaking to broadcasters during a visit to a school in Lincolnshire, the Prime Minister said: “This is a decision that the Metropolitan Police Commissioner has made.

“He has said that he can 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.

“We’ve asked the police for information on how they will ensure that this happens. I’ll be meeting the Metropolitan Police Commissioner later today to discuss this.

“More broadly, my view is that these marches are disrespectful and that’s what I’ll be discussing with the Police Commissioner later today.”

Israel-Hamas conflict
Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley has said he cannot ban a pro-Palestinian protest on Armistice Day (James Manning/PA)

No 10 later denied Mr Sunak is seeking to pile pressure on Sir Mark, with the Prime Minister’s spokesman saying: “No, that’s part and parcel of how Government and the Met operate.

“The Met are operationally independent, it’s the job of the Prime Minister and the Government to hold them to account for their approach.”

But the Met’s current position is “not the end point” and can be kept under review “as the intelligence picture evolves throughout the week,” the spokesman said, while declining to say whether the Government would overrule the force’s decision.

Asked whether the Government is “picking a culture war” over the march, the official said: “I disagree with that.”

But Mr Sunak came under fire from Sir Keir, who tweeted: “Remembrance events must be respected. Full stop.

“But the person the PM needs to hold accountable is his Home Secretary. Picking a fight with the police instead of working with them is cowardice.”

Senior Labour MP John McDonnell, who will attend the protest, urged the Prime Minister not to “politicise” the Met by “interfering” with its decision over the “march for peace and a ceasefire”.

In a statement on Tuesday, Sir Mark said: “The laws created by Parliament are clear. There is no absolute power to ban protest, therefore there will be a protest this weekend.”

He added that use of the power to block moving protests is “incredibly rare” and must be reserved for cases where there is intelligence to suggest a “real threat” of serious disorder.

He said organisers of Saturday’s rally have shown “complete willingness to stay away from the Cenotaph and Whitehall and have no intention of disrupting the nation’s remembrance events”.

“Should this change, we’ve been clear we will use powers and conditions available to us to protect locations and events of national importance at all costs.”

The Met chief is likely to come under significant pressure to change his mind in the coming days, with Cabinet ministers stressing that discussions are ongoing.

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer, who is Jewish, called for the force to keep the “very provocative” march “under review”.

Health Secretary Steve Barclay told Sky News: “There is a legal threshold and the Commissioner is of the view that that legal threshold has not been met.

“Obviously, the Home Office and colleagues will discuss that over the course of the day.”

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

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

There are concerns that breakaway groups from the main march could look for trouble, while counter-demonstrations may add to policing difficulties.

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 take place at the Cenotaph in Westminster the following day.