Clashes between police and mainly far-right counter-protesters at a pro-Palestinian march in London have put the spotlight back on Prime Minister Rishi Sunak after a week of political tension over comments by a senior member of his UK government.
Defense Secretary Grant Shapps said it would have been “preferable for the march not to have gone ahead on Remembrance Day,” though defended people’s right to protest. He said the scenes of violence from English nationalists weren’t inflamed by comments from Home Secretary Suella Braverman, who had called for the event to be banned and accused the police of political bias.
“These marches were already going to happen, these counter-protests were already going to happen,” Shapps told Sky News. “The makeup of the government was a matter for the prime minister,” he said when asked about Braverman’s future.
At least 300,000 people marched in the UK capital on Saturday in support of the Palestinians, calling for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war. Police arrested more than 120 counter-protesters on a day that had turned into a hot political issue because the event coincided with Remembrance, when the UK marks the end of World War I at a memorial in central London.
Braverman, a key figure in the right of the governing Conservative Party, called the pro-Palestinian protests “hate marches.” That criticism, written for the Times newspaper, has put pressure on Sunak to take action and potentially remove her from the post.
Sunak issued a statement yesterday condemning the “violent, wholly unacceptable scenes from English nationalists, their associated groups and what he called Hamas sympathizers.” He said he would convene with the head of the Metropolitan Police, which is responsible for law and order in London, in coming days.
The opposition Labour Party criticized the government for inflaming tension before the march. Yvette Cooper, its spokesperson on home affairs, told Sky News she was “shocked that the prime minister didn’t thank police for its handling of the violent incidents involving counter-protesters.” Shapps said he wanted to “pay tribute to the police.”
“I’m concerned the government made it harder for the police to do their jobs,” Cooper said. Braverman’s criticism of the Metropolitan Police was unprecedented for a home secretary and she called on Sunak to take action.
Labour, which is leading in the polls a year or so before an elec-tion, has also found the Israel-Hamas war to be divisive for the party. It’s seen prominent figures cleave from leader Keir Starmer’s line by calling for an immediate ceasefire. The past week, though, has been more about the tension within Sunak’s governing Conservatives.