Home Secretary Suella Braverman has been criticized after using Northern Ireland as a point of comparison as she characterised pro-Palestinian demonstrations planned for the UK on Armistice Day as “hate marches”.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has described the planned protests as “disrespectful” while other senior Tories have pressured the Metropolitan Police to ban the demonstration which is set to take place in London this weekend.
Writing in The Times, Mrs Braverman said “hate marchers” intend to use the Armistice Day protest as a “show of strength”.
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The Home Secretary also characterised alleged reports that organisers of Saturday’s march were linked to Hamas as “disturbingly reminiscent of Ulster”.
Ms Braverman accused police of "double standards" and "playing favourites" with protesters as the march on Armistice Day appeared set to go ahead despite British government objections.
Mrs Braverman claimed that "pro-Palestinian mobs" are "largely ignored, even when clearly breaking the law".
Analysis: Whether this is aimed at Protestant Loyal Orders or the Catholic Civil Rights Movement, it demonstrates breathtaking ignorance re. Northern Ireland’s history, is highly offensive and inflammatory, not least because there’s no power-sharing government in place right now. https://t.co/lsYmb66jCF— David Blevins (@skydavidblevins) November 9, 2023
Mrs Braverman said: “I do not believe that these marches are merely a cry for help for Gaza.
“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.”
The BBC reported that "a source close to the home secretary" said the comment was a reference to the activities of "dissident republicans".
Baffling reference to Northern Ireland from Suella Braverman in her Times Op-Ed. By presumably claiming that Orange Order marches are “assertions of primacy” with links to terrorist organisations, is she and her govt trying to scupper the talks with the DUP? Odd in the extreme. https://t.co/DDvP1Jc9n4— Cormac Moore (@cormacmoore) November 9, 2023
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood described Ms Braverman as "a Pound Shop Enoch Powell" and said she could "leave us out of it".
Alliance MP Stephen Farry said the British home secretary was “recklessly stoking divisions in the UK”, and her comparisons to Northern Ireland are “pathetic.”
Sinn Féin TD Matt Carthy said: “Suella Braverman has about as much knowledge about Ireland as she seems to have about the situation in Palestine.
Irish News columnist Cormac Moore said the reference was"baffling. "
He wrote on social media: "Baffling reference to Northern Ireland from Suella Braverman in her Times Op-Ed. By presumably claiming that Orange Order marches are “assertions of primacy” with links to terrorist organisations, is she and her govt trying to scupper the talks with the DUP? Odd in the extreme."
This morning, Transport Secretary Mark Harper refused to echo Ms Braverman's description of pro-Palestinian demonstrations as "hate marches".
Asked whether he agreed with the characterisation, he told ITV's Good Morning Britain: "I happen to think it's disrespectful for them to be doing so on Armistice Day, but they do have the right to do that in a free country."
Protesters on previous marches had behaved "in a way that would concern people", he said, adding that police would continue to "take action" against such conduct.
Mr Harper evaded repeated questions on his Cabinet colleague's rhetoric, saying: "I think we're all focused, and I think everyone in the Conservative Party and the Government is focused on trying to make sure that the events of the weekend pass off peacefully."
Responding to Ms Braverman's article, Labour MP Jess Philips said: “Braverman makes our country less safe, not satisfied with inflaming tensions in London she thought she’d also light a match under Northern Ireland relations. No right thinking Prime Minister would stand by her let alone approve her copy.”
Liberal Democrats leader Sir Ed Davey called for Mr Sunak to sack Ms Braverman over her claims police are biased towards protest groups.
He said: "Rishi Sunak must finally act with integrity by sacking his out-of-control Home Secretary.
"Suella Braverman is now putting police officers in harm's way ahead of far-right protesters flocking to the capital this weekend.
"The Home Secretary's irresponsible words and foul actions have significantly increased the likelihood of unrest this weekend and the risk of violence towards officers.
"Ministers are spending their time fanning the flames of division, instead of bringing communities together. It's shameful."
In a statement posted on social media, the Labour Party's Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper accused Mrs Braverman of trying to "rip up [the] operational independence" of the police and "inflame community tensions".
Braverman makes our country less safe, not satisfied with inflaming tensions in London she thought she'd also light a match under Northern Ireland relations. No right thinking Prime Minister would stand by her let alone approve her copy. https://t.co/AHn2dTPG7q— Jess Phillips MP (@jessphillips) November 8, 2023
"Suella Braverman is out of control," she said. "She's deliberately seeking to stir up political division around Remembrance Day, a moment when the whole country can come together to pay our respects for sacrifices of the past."
"No other Home Secretary of any party would ever do this."