The Metropolitan Police has urged organisers to postpone a pro-Palestine march planned for Armistice Day over fears it could spark disorder amid growing political pressure on the force to ban the demonstration.
Senior officers said they were concerned breakaway groups “intent on fuelling disorder” will commit crimes if the protest on 11 November goes ahead.
Officers met organisers on Monday over the planned march on Saturday, but said they had refused to postpone the event.
However, in a direct appeal to organisers, deputy assistant commissioner Ade Adelekan said: “The risk of violence and disorder linked to breakaway groups is growing. This is of concern ahead of a significant and busy weekend in the capital.
“Our message to organisers is clear – please, we ask you to urgently reconsider. It is not appropriate to hold any protests in London this weekend.”
The force said that the request to postpone was despite the positive work of organisers who have supported tens of thousands of people to protest peacefully in a string of rallies since 7 October.
It comes after home secretary Suella Braverman called crunch talks on Monday after the prime minister said demonstrations on 11 November would be an “affront to the British public”.
Organisers have pledged to protest away from Whitehall and the Cenotaph and are understood to be finalising their plans with the Met, which previously vowed to use “all the powers and tactics at our disposal” to prevent Remembrance commemorations from being disrupted.
Police chiefs have the power to ask Ms Braverman for a banning order if they believe the protests present a risk of serious public disorder. However, the Met has so far resisted calls to do so and has yet to comment on whether it will make use of the powers under Section 13 of the Public Order Act 1986.
On Monday, Rishi Sunak said police had the government’s “absolute and total backing” to clamp down on disruption.
He added: “Remembrance Day is a time for national reflection. It is a time when I know the whole country will come together to pay tribute to those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice to keep us safe.
“I want to make sure police have our absolute and total backing to clamp down on any acts of criminality, but also to ensure public order.”
He confirmed Ms Braverman was holding a meeting to discuss the issue on Monday.
Last week, Mr Sunak said holding protests on Armistice Day was “provocative” and “disrespectful”, amid fears splinter groups of protesters could desecrate the Cenotaph or other war memorials.
Ms Braverman echoed the prime minister’s fears, even going as far as to call the pro-Palestine demonstration a “hate march”.
Writing on X, formerly Twitter, she said: “It is entirely unacceptable to desecrate Armistice Day with a hate march through London.
“If it goes ahead there is an obvious risk of serious public disorder, violence and damage as well as giving offence to millions of decent British people.”
Number 10 on Monday said that Mr Sunak does not believe all pro-Palestinian protests are hate marches, but added that there has been “some evidence of hateful behaviour” at previous events.
The Festival of Remembrance at the Royal Albert Hall, which is usually attended by members of the royal family, will take place on Saturday, with a two-minute silence observed at 11am.
However, in a statement, protest organisers of the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign (PSC) said last week they had “no intention” of marching near Whitehall or the Cenotaph to avoid disrupting commemorations.
The PSC added it was “deeply alarmed” by members of the government, including the prime minister, “issuing statements suggesting that the march is a direct threat to the Cenotaph and designed to disrupt the Remembrance Day commemorations”.
Jonathan Hall KC, the government’s independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, has said it is up to the police to assess if there is a risk of public disorder when considering a ban.
“The police are the experts on public order. It’s something they specialise in. They will decide, they will assess, and if they think there is an unacceptable risk they will go to the home secretary and seek a banning order,” he told BBC Radio 4.
Although he said he could see “possibilities of disorder from a terrorist perspective”, his instinct would be not to limit freedom of expression.
He cited previous incidents including when poppies were burned outside the Royal Albert Hall in 2010 and also noted the risk of an “extreme right-wing terrorist backlash”.
He added: “I think this is a difficult issue. I see no evidence that the organisers of the march are trying to target Remembrance day or the weekend and my instinct must be that you should always err on the side of freedom of expression.”
A spokesperson for mayor of London Sadiq Khan said: “The right to protest is a cornerstone of our democracy. The mayor has repeatedly said that protesters should be hugely mindful of the Remembrance events next weekend and not protest near or around the Cenotaph.
“The Public Order Act is clear that stopping a protest going ahead is a strictly operational matter for the police which has to be approved by the Home Secretary.”
Four police officers were attacked with fireworks during Saturday’s pro-Palestine protest after thousands of demonstrators gathered in Trafalgar Square.
Protesters climbed on the square’s famous fountains as the mostly peaceful group waved flags and banners. There were six arrests.
Protest plans for Saturday were thought to be largely agreed with Met Police officials last week – with proposals expected to be finalised on Monday afternoon – until the Met called for organisers to postpone.
The march was planned to start at 12.45pm, long after the two-minute silence is observed. The protest route is expected to take protesters from Hyde Park – about a mile from the Cenotaph – to the US embassy in Vauxhall, south of the Thames.
A spokesperson for the mayor of London said: “The right to protest is a cornerstone of our democracy. The mayor has repeatedly said that protesters should be hugely mindful of the Remembrance events next weekend and not protest near or around the Cenotaph. The Public Order Act is clear that stopping a protest going ahead is a strictly operational matter for the police which has to be approved by the home secretary.”