UK

Cleverly considers making protesters give police more notice over marches

The Home Secretary has questioned whether holding repeated pro-Palestine marches ‘adds value’ to calls for a ceasefire.

The Home Secretary has questioned what repeated pro-Palestine marches were ‘hoping to achieve’, saying demonstrators had ‘made their point’.
Pro-Palestinian march The Home Secretary has questioned what repeated pro-Palestine marches were ‘hoping to achieve’, saying demonstrators had ‘made their point’. (Lucy North/PA)

The Government is considering increasing the amount of notice protest organisers have to give the police after repeated demonstrations cost forces across the country £25 million in two months last year.

Chris Philp, the policing minister, said the Home Secretary was giving the proposal “some thought” after the Commons Home Affairs Committee recommended the change on Tuesday.

MPs said repeated pro-Palestine demonstrations between October 7 and December 17 had placed “unsustainable pressure” on policing resources, costing the Metropolitan Police alone an estimated £18.9 million.

Mr Philp told Sky News: “I think the Home Secretary is giving that some thought and it’s being kept under review.”

He added: “For very, very large protests where we’re talking about tens of thousands, or possible even hundreds of thousands of people, it may make planning for the police easier if it’s more like a couple of weeks, but that’s just something the Home Secretary’s thinking about, and certainly nothing’s been decided.”

Policing minister Chris Philp said James Cleverly was ‘giving some thought’ to increasing the amount of notice protest organisers had to give the police
National Policing Board meeting Policing minister Chris Philp said James Cleverly was ‘giving some thought’ to increasing the amount of notice protest organisers had to give the police (James Manning/PA)

His comments came as the Home Secretary himself questioned whether holding regular pro-Palestine marches “adds value” to protesters’ calls for an immediate ceasefire, saying they had “made their point”.

James Cleverly, in an interview with The Times, questioned what future demonstrations in support of ending the violence in Gaza hoped to achieve given the Conservative UK Government was in “disagreement” with their position.

On Wednesday, Mr Philp agreed with Mr Cleverly’s comments but said the Government would not seek to halt the demonstrations if they continued.

He said: “We are a free country and people have the right to protest, so we will continue to police those protests.

“Where people cross the line and, for example, incite racial hatred or commit public order offences, then arrests will be made.

“About 600 arrests have been made so far because protests must be within the law, but we are a free country and the right to protest and the right to free speech are fundamental.”

Labour said it would “look at” any proposals the Government brought forward on protest, saying it was important to strike a balance between the right to protest and the need to prevent intimidation.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s administration supports an immediate pause in the fighting between Israel and Hamas to allow hostages to be released and for aid to enter the territory.

No 10 says any ceasefire would come with conditions, including that Hamas — the Palestinian militant group that carried out the deadly raids on Israel on October 7 that sparked the war — can no longer be in charge of the Gaza Strip, to ensure it is sustainable.

Mr Cleverly told the Times the protests witnessed across Britain since the war broke out were putting a “huge amount of pressure” on the country’s police forces.

The senior Tory said: “The question I ask myself is: ‘What are these protests genuinely hoping to achieve?’

“They have made a point and they made it very, very loudly and I’m not sure that these marches every couple of weeks add value to the argument.

“They’re not really saying anything new.”

The tensions surrounding the Middle East conflict has reignited a debate around MP safety, with protesters targeting the homes of parliamentarians to demand action on Gaza.

The Home Secretary said it was vital that MPs were not “bullied” into changing their stance on the Gaza conflict due to threats from demonstrators.

Home Secretary James Cleverly has questioned what the regular pro-Palestine protests are ‘hoping to achieve’
James Cleverly Home Secretary James Cleverly has questioned what the regular pro-Palestine protests are ‘hoping to achieve’ (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

In chaotic scenes during a Gaza ceasefire debate in the Commons last week, Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle broke with parliamentary precedent because he had concerns about the intimidation suffered by some MPs.

Mr Cleverly said: “I think it is really important that no-one, no parliamentarian, feels that they should be bullied into taking a position they don’t believe is the right position

“So I genuinely don’t know what these regular protests are seeking to achieve.

“They have made their position clear, we recognise that there are many people in the UK that hold that position.

“We respect that but the UK Government’s position is a disagreement with that for very practical, well thought-out reasons.”

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign is planning further action on the weekend in support of Gaza.

Organisers are calling on supporters to take part in local protests on Saturday against Barclays Bank, which it says holds “substantial financial ties with arms companies supplying weapons and military technology to Israel”.

A march in support of a ceasefire in central London is planned for Saturday March 9.

US President Joe Biden this week said he was hopeful a ceasefire deal could be in place by next week, with negotiations continuing on Tuesday.

Separately, a protest is planned by farmers in Wales outside the Senedd in Cardiff on Wednesday.

They are opposed to proposed changes to post-Brexit subsidies which will require more land to be given over to tree planting and habitat creation.