UK Home Secretary Faces Backlash Over Accusations Against Police and Pro-Palestinian Protests

Britain's Home Secretary Suella Braverman arrives for a cabinet meeting in 10 Downing Street in London, on Oct. 31, 2023. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

UK Home Secretary Suella Braverman is facing intense scrutiny after accusing the Metropolitan Police of showing leniency towards pro-Palestinian protesters, a claim that has deepened divisions within the government and sparked calls for her dismissal.

In a direct assault on the police’s handling of recent protests, Braverman labeled the pro-Palestinian demonstrators who have gathered every weekend since the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas conflict over a month ago as “hate marchers” and accused them of lawbreaking. Her comments came as part of a broader critique of the police’s approach to different protest groups, including Black Lives Matter activists and right-wing demonstrators.

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Suella Braverman and Rishi Sunak gathering security officials (PA Wire)

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, already under pressure to address the controversy, has reiterated his support for peaceful protest as a fundamental right, despite his characterization of the timing of the protests on Armistice Day and Remembrance Sunday as “provocative and disrespectful.” The prime minister’s spokesperson, Max Blain, stated that while Braverman’s op-ed was not cleared by the PM’s office, Sunak maintains “full confidence” in his home secretary.

The planned pro-Palestinian march has been a particular point of contention due to its scheduling on Armistice Day, ahead of Remembrance Sunday commemorations. These events are traditionally attended by the monarch and senior officials, including veterans, to honor wartime victims.

Britain’s Home Secretary Suella Braverman attends the State Opening of Parliament ceremony, at the Houses of Parliament, in London, Tuesday Nov. 7, 2023. (Hannah McKay/Pool Photo via AP)

Braverman’s article in The Times of London, where she suggested a favoritism by police towards certain protest groups, has been met with widespread criticism. Her comparison of the pro-Palestinian demonstrations to actions by Islamic extremists and historical violence in Northern Ireland has been deemed insensitive and inaccurate by many, including Colum Eastwood, leader of the Irish nationalist SDLP, who accused Braverman of displaying a significant lack of understanding about various sensitive issues.

The backlash has extended to the opposition, with Labour Party leader Keir Starmer highlighting the prime minister’s apparent reluctance to dismiss Braverman as a sign of weakness. The Labour Party’s spokeswoman, Yvette Cooper, accused Braverman of dangerously inflaming community tensions and undermining the police.

Pro-Palestinian demonstrators take part in a sit-down protest inside Charing Cross station in central London on Nov. 4, 2023.

With almost 200 arrests in London related to the conflict, including those for suspected antisemitic and anti-Muslim offenses, the police maintain that protests can only be banned if there is a serious risk of disorder, a threshold they assert has not been met despite concerns about breakaway groups.

Braverman, known for her strong stance on migration and opposition to what she terms the “tofu-eating wokerati,” is considered a divisive figure within the Conservative Party. Her approach and comments have fueled speculation that she may be positioning herself for a leadership bid should the Conservatives face defeat in the anticipated elections next year, where they currently trail behind Labour in the polls.

The situation in the UK reflects broader international challenges in addressing the strong emotions provoked by the Middle East conflict. Similar debates have unfolded in France, where a nationwide ban on pro-Palestinian protests was overturned by the country’s highest administrative authority in favor of local decision-making based on public order risks.