April 22, 2024

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Protests descend into mob rule, Rishi Sunak warns police

Protests descend into mob rule, Rishi Sunak 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.

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.

“This is what the public expects. It is fundamental to our democratic system. It is also vital to maintaining public confidence in the police.”

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

“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.”

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign – one of the groups behind a series of mass demonstrations that have taken place in London and other cities in recent months – 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.

However, Del Babu, a former chief superintendent of the Metropolitan Police, said language such as “mob rule” was not “helpful”.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today program that pleading with people to demonstrate less could have “unintended consequences” and possibly lead to more people protesting.

Comment on the photo,

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

Justice Secretary Mike Frear, who will step down at the next election over safety concerns, said additional funding for security measures “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.”