This Armistice Day, November 11, London has been severely disrupted by a series of protests and counter-protests across the city.
Beginning at 9am today, a large crowd of right wing protestors assembled near Downing Street, “already intoxicated, aggressive and clearly looking for a fight” according to Assistant Police Commissioner Matt Twist. Nine officers were injured in a confrontation with the ‘football hooligan’ group at Whitehall, as they attempted to break police lines and reach the Cenotaph monument, a large statue dedicated to those who died in World War One. Despite this, the remembrance service and two minutes of silence proceeded largely uninterrupted.
Chants from the group, including “I’m English ’til I die”, and “You’re not English any more”, were directed at police, with ‘missiles’ also thrown at officers. Right-wing activists like Tommy Robinson had been encouraging supporters to ‘protect’ the Cenotaph amid alleged fears of Palestinian interference in the ceremony – an area which was already heavily policed as an ‘exclusion zone’.
Police found knives, knuckledusters, batons and Class A drugs on counter-protestors, leading to 92 arrests by 3pm. In the most notable incident, a large group of counter-protestors were held inside the White Swan pub in Pimlico, before they were removed in small groups and searched by officers. 82 of the 92 arrests were made here.
There were an estimated 300,000 attendees at the main pro-Palestinian march which began around lunchtime, although organisers have suggested that there may have been as many as 800,000 people present overall. Assistant Commissioner Twist commented that the gathering was “absolutely enormous” and confirmed that it was the largest rally since the protest campaign began in October.
The Met Police this evening reported that “the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) did not see the sort of physical violence carried out by the right wing”. Relations with police were generally cordial, with vans and uniformed officers escorting protestors back into central London after the march finished in Nine Elms.
Roar editors at the scene witnessed repeated firework explosions within the compact group, and the Met Police later reported that multiple officers were hit in the face by the rockets. Section 60 and 60AA powers allowed officers to detain and search the group. The Roar team were later warned by an officer that if they remained in the area they risked arrest under Section 35 provisions, a dispersal order which covered much of Soho, Pimlico, Chelsea and Hyde Park.
After Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said that protesting on Armistice Day was ‘disrespectful’, and Home Secretary Suella Braverman called London’s frequent pro-Palestinian protests ‘hate marches’, tensions were high even before November 11 began. The Metropolitan Police were under significant pressure to intervene in, or even ban, the planned Palestinian march, despite the route being far from the Remembrance Day event at the Cenotaph.
Before today, the Met Police had made 188 arrests for hate crimes in London since October 7, the majority of which were for antisemitic offences. Braverman’s controversial comments were published in an opinion piece in The Times, reportedly having not been cleared by Number 10 beforehand even despite a request to tone down the language from an earlier draft. Sunak is now under pressure to sack Braverman. Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said that the violence at the Cenotaph was the “direct result” of her comments.
This afternoon, the Prime Minister condemned both “EDL [English Defence League] thugs attacking police officers and trespassing on the Cenotaph” and “those singing antisemitic chants and brandishing pro-Hamas signs and clothing”. The Met Police did cite “a number of serious offences identified in relation to hate crime and possible support for prescribed [terrorist] organisations” during the pro-Palestine rally.
Police continue to be active on the streets at the time of publication. Despite there being no major planned protests tomorrow, the police have expressed that they will continue to have an increased presence in London in case of further disturbances.