Suella Braverman, the British home secretary, has faced criticism after describing pro-Palestine protesters as “hate marchers” and accusing police of double standards.
London has witnessed massive weekend demonstrations over the past month, with tens of thousands of people taking to the streets to denounce Israel’s relentless bombing campaign in the Gaza Strip and demand the United Kingdom government call for a ceasefire.
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This Saturday’s planned protest coincides with Armistice weekend, an annual remembrance of World War I when many in the UK pause to remember the victims of war.
Despite pressure from the government, the Metropolitan Police said they could not legally ban the march, saying there was insufficient intelligence that there would be a risk of public disorder.
Protest organisers say Saturday’s rally will not be passing through the Cenotaph, Britain’s national war memorial in central London, and will happen in the afternoon after a minute of silence is held at 11am.
But in a highly unusual attack, Braverman on Wednesday accused police of being more lenient towards pro-Palestinian demonstrations, arguing that right-wing and nationalist protesters are treated differently.
“I do not believe that these marches are merely a cry for help for Gaza,” Braverman wrote in an article published by the Times newspaper.
“They are an assertion of primacy by certain groups – particularly Islamists – of the kind we are more used to seeing in Northern Ireland. Also disturbingly reminiscent of Ulster are the reports that some of Saturday’s march group organisers have links to terrorist groups, including Hamas.”
Braverman’s comments drew heavy criticism, including from opposition politicians and activists.
“Suella Braverman is out of control,” Yvette Cooper, of the main opposition Labour Party, wrote on X. “Her article tonight is a highly irresponsible, dangerous attempt to undermine respect for police at a sensitive time, to rip up operational independence & to inflame community tensions. No other Home Secretary of any party would ever do this.”
David Lammy, a Labour MP, said Braverman was looking to “exploit the sensitivities of this moment, and an ignorance to Northern Ireland’s history … for her own leadership campaign”.
Suella Braverman seeking to exploit the sensitivities of this moment, and an ignorance of Northern Ireland’s history, to inflame community tensions for her own leadership campaign is an appalling new low.
Rishi Sunak must sack her. But he’s too weak.
— David Lammy (@DavidLammy) November 9, 2023
Critics say Braverman is trying to position herself for a party leadership contest that could come if the Conservatives lose power in an election that is expected next year. Opinion polls for months have put the party 15 to 20 points behind Labour.
British actor and comedian Adil Ray described Braverman’s column as “astonishing”.
“When the police are trying to allow the right to protest & control tensions, the last person they expect to inflame them is the home secretary,” Ray said.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who had previously called the protests on Armistice weekend “disrespectful”, backtracked on Wednesday after meeting police chief Mark Rowley and conceded that people had a “right to peacefully protest”.
In a statement, Sunak said: “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.”