Rishi Sunak has condemned “wholly unacceptable” actions by both far-right groups and “Hamas sympathisers” on the pro-Palestinian march, and put pressure on police by saying “all criminality must be met with the full and swift force of the law”.
The Prime Minister said the ugly scenes in central London on Armistice Day “utterly disrespects” the spirit of remembrance as police confirmed 126 arrests with nine officers injured.
Mr Sunak will meet Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley in the coming days to hold him “accountable” for the handling of the disturbances.
Police detained and arrested scores of counter-protesters as hundreds of thousands of people took part in the biggest UK rally since the Israel-Hamas conflict began on October 7.
A breakaway group of around 150 people from the march, who were firing fireworks and wearing face coverings, were later detained in Grosvenor Place, the Met said.
Mr Sunak said in a statement: “I condemn the violent, wholly unacceptable scenes we have seen today from the EDL (English Defence League) and associated groups and Hamas sympathisers attending the National March for Palestine.
“The despicable actions of a minority of people undermine those who have chosen to express their views peacefully.”
He said their actions do “not defend the honour of our Armed Forces, but utterly disrespects them”.
“That is true for EDL thugs attacking police officers and trespassing on the Cenotaph, and it is true for those singing antisemitic chants and brandishing pro-Hamas signs and clothing on today’s protest.”
He said he would be meeting the Met chief, adding: “All criminality must be met with the full and swift force of the law. That is what I told the Met Police Commissioner on Wednesday, that is what they are accountable for and that is what I expect.”
Mr Sunak had vowed to hold the Scotland Yard boss “accountable” if there was any trouble on Saturday, after Sir Mark resisted pressure from senior Tories to ban the pro-Palestinian march as it coincided with the day commemorating the end of the First World War.
Remembrance weekend is a time for us to come together as a nation and remember those who fought and died for our freedoms.
The unacceptable scenes today disrespect their memory. pic.twitter.com/vVyqSB7oi2
— Rishi Sunak (@RishiSunak) November 11, 2023
Police said there were 300,000 people on the march but organisers said the latest estimate was “more than 800,000”.
Assistant Commissioner Matt Twist said: “The extreme violence from the right-wing protesters towards the police today was extraordinary and deeply concerning.
“They arrived early, stating they were there to protect monuments, but some were already intoxicated, aggressive and clearly looking for confrontation.
“Abuse was directed at officers protecting the Cenotaph, including chants of ‘you’re not English any more’.
“This group were largely football hooligans from across the UK and spent most of the day attacking or threatening officers who were seeking to prevent them being able to confront the main march.
“Many in these groups were stopped and searched and weapons including a knife, a baton and knuckleduster were found – as well as class A drugs.
“Thanks to the considerable efforts of our officers, who put themselves in harm’s way, nobody was able to reach the Cenotaph, which was protected at all times.”
Mr Twist added that officers remained deployed into the night to respond to outbreaks of violence and to protect sites ahead of Remembrance Sunday events.
Labour also denounced both “disgraceful scenes of far-right violence against police officers” and “appalling cases of antisemitic hate, intimidation, and support for terrorist groups like Hamas”.
Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said: “Both violence and hate crimes must face the full force of the law.”
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan paid tribute to the Met police for dealing “with a very difficult day with exceptional professionalism”, as he supported the force in “taking a zero-tolerance approach against anyone found committing violent offences or spreading hate”.
The overwhelming majority of people protested peacefully, he said, as he described as “unacceptable” scenes of “far-right thugs attacking the police and some who have used the pro-Palestinian protest to spread hate and racism, including antisemitism”.
A total of 82 people who police said were part of “large group” of counter-protesters who had “tried to reach the main protest march” were arrested in Tachbrook Street, Pimlico.
Reports suggested that some people were detained and prevented from leaving the nearby White Swan pub with a heavy police presence outside, including officers on horseback.
A further 10 arrests were made throughout the day for offences including possession of offensive weapons, affray and possession of drugs, police said.
Counter-protesters had earlier clashed with police near the Cenotaph, ahead of a service to mark Armistice Day.
Scuffles broke out as police attempted to stop a crowd of people carrying St George’s flags marching along Embankment towards Whitehall, where the Cenotaph is located, shortly after 10am.
The group, which had been chanting “England ’til I die”, pushed through the police barrier, with some shouting “let’s have them” as officers hit out with batons.
Further clashes with police took place in Chinatown with counter-protesters chanting “you’re not English any more” towards officers.
A group of about 100 people were later held near Westminster Bridge under police powers to prevent a disturbance.
An Armistice Day service took place at the Cenotaph on Whitehall at 11am, which passed off peacefully with a two-minute silence being observed.
The Met Police posted on X, formerly Twitter: “While the two minutes’ silence was marked respectfully and without incident on Whitehall, officers have faced aggression from counter-protesters who are in the area in significant numbers.”
The force added: “Officers have prevented those not involved in getting on to Whitehall so it can take place without disruption, as we committed.
“They have faced unacceptable violence, including people throwing missiles and a metal barrier.”
Tommy Robinson, founder and former leader of the far-right English Defence League, was seen among the crowds of counter-protesters.
Thousands of people marched from Park Lane near Hyde Park to the US embassy in Vauxhall as part of the demonstration calling for a ceasefire in Gaza.
The Met said it was “actively seeking” two men pictured on the march wearing headbands of the terrorist group Hamas over their balaclava and scarf-covered faces.
The force posted on X: “Officers are actively looking for these individuals and will take proactive action when they are identified.”
Also spotted in the crowds were signs with the slogan “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” which the Home Secretary said has become “a staple of antisemitic discourse”.
Another sign carried during the march shows the Jewish Star of David wrapped around a Nazi swastika with the slogan: “No British politician should be a ‘friend of Israel’.”
Others on the march had effigies of dead babies to highlight their demands for a ceasefire.
The Met posted photos on X of several people wanted for “hate crimes” committed at the march.
A Palestinian flag was also wrapped around a First World War memorial near London’s Wellington Arch, with protesters later seen climbing the statue.
Senior Cabinet minister Michael Gove was seen in footage being mobbed by pro-Palestinian demonstrators at Victoria station, who chanted “shame on you”.
Other politicians condemned the crowding of Mr Gove, with SNP Westminster leader Stephen Flynn saying: “Those acting in this fashion damage their cause.”
London Mayor Mr Khan criticised attempts to “intimidate politicians” as “unacceptable”.
He also said: “The far right have clearly been encouraged and emboldened by what they have heard this week, including from senior politicians like the Home Secretary.”
Mr Sunak has faced growing calls to sack Suella Braverman as Home Secretary as she has been accused of stoking tensions by branding pro-Palestinian demonstrators “hate marchers” and accusing the police of bias for letting the rally go ahead.
Shadow home secretary Ms Cooper said: “Suella Braverman was warned repeatedly of the dangers of inflaming tensions and undermining the police. A Home Secretary that doesn’t take seriously the security of our streets is only allowed to remain in a government that has lost all sense of governing. Britain is better than Rishi Sunak and his Cabinet.”
The events in London came as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected growing international calls for a ceasefire in Gaza, saying his country’s battle to crush Hamas militants would continue with “full force”.
A ceasefire would be possible only if all 239 hostages held by Hamas in Gaza were released, he said in a televised address.
The Israeli leader also insisted that after the war, now entering its sixth week, Gaza would be demilitarised and Israel would retain security control there.