Rishi Sunak warned that “those who seek to divide society” could try to exploit the Armistice Day pro-Palestinian march as he vowed to hold Metropolitan Police chief Sir Mark Rowley accountable for the decision to let the protest go ahead.
The Prime Minister hauled the commissioner in for a crisis meeting to discuss the planned protest as the Met came under intense political pressure over the march through the streets of the capital on Saturday.
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”.
But he acknowledged that “part of that freedom is the right to peacefully protest”.
“And the test of that freedom is whether our commitment to it can survive the discomfort and frustration of those who seek to use it, even if we disagree with them. We will meet that test and remain true to our principles.”
He said police had confirmed the march will not be near the Cenotaph on Whitehall and timings will 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.”
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.
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, which is 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.
No 10 denied Mr Sunak is seeking to pile pressure on Sir Mark, with the Prime Minister’s spokesman saying: “The Met are operationally independent, it’s the job of the Prime Minister and the Government to hold them to account for their approach.”
Asked whether the Government is “picking a culture war” over the march, the official said: “I disagree with that.”
But a series of Cabinet minister spoke out about the situation on Wednesday.
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.”
Transport Secretary Mark Harper told the PA news agency: “The Government’s position remains that it would prefer that the organisers didn’t hold the march.
“It’s provocative and disrespectful, we think, in holding it on Armistice Day, and we would urge them to reconsider.”
The Met said officers were already preparing for remembrance events over the weekend and “we will do everything in our power to ensure that people who want to mark the occasion can do so safely and without disruption”.
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.
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.
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.
In an indication of the challenges faced by police, the Met said that since the Hamas massacre in Israel 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 crime. This is absolutely unacceptable.”