Protests descend into mob rule, PM warns police

  • Written by Jennifer McKernan and Doug Faulkner
  • BBC News

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak warned police chiefs against a “growing consensus that mob rule is replacing democratic rule”.

He wants stronger responses from police, which he says is necessary to protect politicians and democratic processes.

This includes an “immediate response” from police to the intimidating protest at MPs' homes.

But human rights group Amnesty International says the prime minister is “dramatically exaggerating this issue.”

Mr Sunak was speaking the day after the Home Office announced a £31 million package aimed at protecting MPs, explaining that it was a response to the impact of the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas.

Massive and largely peaceful demonstrations have been taking place across the UK since the attacks by Hamas on Israel on October 7, when Israel began its military offensive in response to the group's destruction in Gaza.

Police chiefs have now been summoned to Downing Street, where the Prime Minister urged them to use existing powers to crack down on intimidation, disruption and vandalism “urgently”.

“We simply cannot allow this pattern of increasingly violent and intimidating behavior that is aimed, as far as anyone knows, at suppressing free debate and preventing elected representatives from doing their jobs,” he said.

“This is simply undemocratic… I will do whatever it takes to protect our democracy and the values ​​that we all hold dear,” he added.

Police have been told that protests outside MPs' homes and offices should generally be considered a threat and therefore “result in an immediate response”.

The Home Office document states: “Elected representatives have been threatened and their family homes have been targeted. Council meetings have been repeatedly disrupted and, in some cases, cancelled… Last Wednesday, protesters threatened to force Parliament to ‘close its doors’.”

“These are not isolated incidents or legitimate means of achieving change through the force of peaceful argument… They are as un-British as they are undemocratic.

“If we are to maintain public trust and preserve the integrity of the democratic process, it cannot be allowed to continue.”

One of the groups behind the demonstrations, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, said it did not support protests outside MPs' homes but defended the right to hold peaceful protests outside MPs' offices and council chambers.

It is understood Labor believes the proposals are sensible but the Prime Minister's language is not.

Conservative Donna Jones, chair of the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners, told BBC Newsnight that police currently have sufficient powers – and are using them to arrest protesters.

Ms Jones, who was present at the Downing Street meeting, said: “We have all heard the message now from the pro-Palestinian groups. We have heard it, we know it, we understand what they are trying to say – but this kind of unlawful behavior has to stop.

Comment on the photo,

Pro-Palestinian demonstrators called for a ceasefire in Gaza outside parliament last week

But Justice Secretary Mike Freer, who is stepping down at the next election over safety concerns, said the extra money “will not go to the root cause” of why people felt emboldened to target MPs.

He said that unless you deal with the issue, you will have a “ring of steel around the representatives” and then “our whole democratic style will change.”

Tom Southerden, Director of Law and Human Rights at Amnesty International UK, warned of the erosion of basic rights.

He added: “Talk of ‘mob rule’ greatly exaggerates the issue and risks delegitimizing the rights to peaceful protest.”

“Freedom of expression and assembly are absolutely fundamental rights in any free and just society.

“The UK has seen a significant crackdown on protest rights in recent years, with peaceful protest methods criminalized and the police given sweeping powers to prevent protests from taking place.”

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