Protests lead to mob rule Prime Minister warns police

Protests lead to mob rule, Prime Minister warns police

  • By Jennifer McKiernan and Doug Faulkner
  • BBC News

February 28, 2024

Updated 1 hour ago

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

He wants more robust police measures, which he says are necessary to protect politicians and democratic processes.

This includes an “immediate police response” to intimidating protests outside MPs’ homes.

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

Mr Sunak was speaking the day after the Home Office announced a £31 million package to protect MPs, saying it was in response to the impact of the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict.

Massive and largely peaceful demonstrations have been taking place across the UK since Hamas' attacks on Israel on October 7 and the start of Israel's military offensive in response to destroy the group in Gaza.

Now police chiefs have been summoned to Downing Street, where the Prime Minister urged them to “urgently” use existing powers to tackle intimidation, disruption and subversion.

He said: “We simply cannot allow this pattern of increasingly violent and intimidating behavior which, as far as anyone can see, is aimed at stifling free debate and preventing elected representatives from doing their jobs.”

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

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

Police are advised that protests outside MPs' homes and offices should generally be viewed as intimidating and should therefore “trigger an immediate response”.

A Home Office document said: “Elected representatives were threatened and their families’ homes were attacked. Council meetings were repeatedly disrupted and in some cases abandoned… Last Wednesday, protesters threatened to force Parliament to “lock its doors.”

“These are not isolated cases or legitimate means of bringing about change through peaceful arguments… It is as un-British as it is undemocratic.”

“If public trust is to be maintained and the integrity of the democratic process preserved, it cannot be allowed to stand.”

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 that the Labor Party thinks the proposals make sense, but the Prime Minister's language does not.

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

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

image description,

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

But Attorney General Mike Freer, who is stepping down at the next election over security concerns, said the extra money “wouldn't get to the root cause” of why people felt emboldened to target MPs.

He said that if the matter was not taken care of, there would only be “a steel ring around the MPs” and then “our whole style of democracy would change”.

Tom Southerden, legal and human rights director at Amnesty International UK, warned that fundamental rights were being undermined.

“Talk of 'mob rule' completely exaggerates the issue and risks delegitimizing the right to peaceful protest,” he said.

“Freedom of expression and assembly are absolute fundamental rights in every free and fair society.

“The UK has seen severe crackdowns on protest rights in recent years, with peaceful protest tactics criminalized and police given broad powers to prevent protests.”