UK

Rishi Sunak’s warning on extremists ‘welcome – albeit belated’

Saturday’s newspapers say the Prime Minister’s words need to be followed by actions.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak giving his press conference in Downing Street
Rishi Sunak press conference Prime Minister Rishi Sunak giving his press conference in Downing Street (Jordan Pettitt/PA)

Rishi Sunak’s warning about the forces of extremism was largely welcomed by the UK’s newspapers – although several felt it was overdue.

Several backed the Prime Minister’s call for stronger action by the police during protests and enhanced security measures against potential extremists, but warned he needs to follow his words with actions.

The Times described the speech as a “wake-up call” and “a sobering warning of the fragility of democracy”.

The paper said the biggest significance was the way the speech “threw down the gauntlet to the police”, citing the Metropolitan Police’s declaration it was unable to stop antisemitic messages being beamed onto Big Ben.

“Promising to back the Met commissioner and chief constables confronted with such tactics, Sunak was clearly calling for much more muscular policing of protests,” the paper said, adding the Prime Minister promised to “beef up” the Prevent programme designed to tackle potential terrorists, counter extremism in universities and “foreign preachers of hate”.

“Occasionally, it is necessary to restate the principles on which this country operates,” it continued.

“Britain has for centuries been a place of refuge for immigrant communities escaping threats of persecution and xenophobia. It would be a tragedy if these evils were allowed to take hold in these islands and poison the well of public debate.”

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak issues his warning over extremism
Rishi Sunak press conference Prime Minister Rishi Sunak issues his warning over extremism (Aaron Chown/PA)

The Daily Telegraph said “enough is enough” was the “welcome – albeit belated” sentiment of Mr Sunak’s address.

Citing George Galloway’s by-election victory in Rochdale as the “immediate context” of the speech, the Telegraph warned that results “did not emerge out of nowhere” amid pro-Palestine protests and anti-Semitic slogans.

“The Government has not been on the front foot as these appalling events have unfolded,” it wrote. “Now, however, the Prime Minister is promising to ‘face down the extremists who would tear us apart’, not with pandering but with leadership.

It warned the “battle” would not be won quickly and that Mr Sunak “will need to accompany his fine words with decisive and comprehensive action to defend the British way of life”.

Calling Mr Galloway’s victory a “dreadfully dark day for democracy”, the Daily Mail said the Prime Minister delivered a “crackdown on extremism … the nation was crying out to hear”.

“He must now turn words into action,” it said, focusing on the call for stronger policing of marches.

“Britain is proud of its values, tolerance and freedoms. By vowing to protect them from zealots, Mr Sunak has shown the leadership the country wants and deserves.”

George Galloway gives his victory speech in Rochdale
Rochdale by-election George Galloway gives his victory speech in Rochdale (Peter Byrne/PA)

The Daily Express said Mr Sunak was “right to encourage us to unite against hate” and said his “blunt words will strike a chord with many”.

It also focused on policing which it said could partly have been driven by a “laudable desire to protect the right to protest”.

“Mr Sunak is right to insist they must do better,” it wrote, saying it was “a time when we all must stand up for British values”.

The Sun said “too many people have grown up feeling no love for, or connection to, Britain or our liberal values”.

It said turning things around is “a monumental task” but that Mr Sunak must back up his words.

“We can only hope it is a turning point,” the paper wrote.