Large groups are preparing to travel to London to “confront” a pro-Palestine march on Armistice Day that organisers predict will be one of the biggest demonstrations ever seen in Britain, the Metropolitan police has said.
As many as half a million people who want a ceasefire in the war between Israel and Hamas could take to the streets on Saturday, the coalition of organisers of the march have claimed, prompting a mobilisation of 1,850 police officers.
Laurence Taylor, the Met’s deputy assistant commissioner, warned that the Met had also received intelligence that “large numbers of counter-protesters will be coming to Londonwith a view to confronting those taking place in the main march”.
“I do believe if the groups come together, there will be serious disorder,” he said. “We know that there is likely to be some groups from both sides … who will likely seek each other out later on in the day.”
Taylor said his officers would use an “an extensive set of powers to prevent any disruption whatsoever”, with tight controls put on the movements of protesters, in what was said to be a more complex and difficult policing operation than ever before conducted on a remembrance weekend.
He said: “The objective of policing is to use the least intrusive force possible to achieve an end. There will be times this weekend where you see pockets of confrontation, despite the conditions and everything I’ve put in place to manage that.
“You will see police intervention, and I hope we don’t but I think it’s likely you will see police having to use force to manage some of the situations that we have to deal with, and at times that might look messy.
“That doesn’t equate to serious disorder or to us losing control, but it does mean that we are taking robust, rapid and agile action to deal with what we are dealing with.”Map of the protest route
The counterprotest groups would be permitted to be at the Cenotaph where the pro-Palestine marchers are banned, he added, because the former’s “sole purpose and their intention is to protect the sanctity of the Cenotaph and Remembrance. So I don’t anticipate there will be any disorder from that group.”
Ben Jamal, the director of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC), a lead organiser of the march, said he understood that people would be travelling from all over the UK to march on Saturday from Park Lane towards the US embassy in Nine Elms, south-west London.
On a stage set up near where Nine Elms becomes Battersea Park Road, speeches will be made by Jeremy Corbyn, the former Labour leader, the actors Juliet Stevenson and Maxine Peake, and the head of the Palestinian mission to the UK, Husam Zomlot, among others.
“We think it is going to be huge,” Jamal said. In a statement issued on Friday, the PSC said: “More than 500,000 people are expected to converge in London, making it one of the largest political marches in British history.”
The Met is expecting more than 100,000 people on the march, with numbers unlikely to reach a million, they said. There is little doubt among senior officers that there will be flashpoints at various times on Saturday, with concerns that groups could splinter off from the main march to cause disruption, and that far-right elements could seek to exploit the occasion.
Taylor, who is leading the public order command team on Armistice Day, said it would be a “very difficult weekend for policing” and that it required a “large and robust” plan.
The organisers’ request for two end points for the march, in order to alleviate the pressure on their stewards, was declined by the police on Thursday. They said they remained confident the event would still pass off peacefully.
The Met said 1,850 officers would be on duty with about 780 officers being called up from outside London. Public order units and other response sections of the Met have had leave cancelled.
The Met commissioner, Mark Rowley, has said he is keeping a close watch for any fresh intelligence that suggests there are new grounds to seek a banning order from the home secretary under section 13 of the 1986 Public Order Act.
The Cenotaph will have a dedicated 24-hour police presence through the weekend. Protesters will not be allowed close to the US embassy nor to gather in the streets around the Israeli embassy in Kensington. Anyone who does not disperse from key central London locations including Trafalgar Square and Piccadilly Circus could be arrested, the Met has said.
Marchers will be banned from an exclusion zone covering Whitehall, Horse Guards Parade and the Westminster Abbey Field of Remembrance.
The march has been organised by a coalition of groups: the PSC, the Muslim Association of Britain, Friends of Al-Aqsa, Palestinian Forum in Britain, Stop the War and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.
The chief steward of the protest, Chris Nineham of Stop the War, had the same role for the 15 February 2003 anti-war protest against the invasion of Iraq – the largest ever such event in the UK, when an estimated 1.5 million people marched on the streets of London. He will be directing a team of 500 volunteer stewards on Saturday.
Since Hamas triggered the war with Israel on 7 October by killing 1,400 people and taking approximately 240 hostages, there have been a series of marches and assemblies in London and around the UK calling for a ceasefire. The largest attracted 100,000 people, according to police.
Nineham said: “This will be far and away the biggest of these series of demonstrations. I know it’s going to be a lot bigger than that. Just one coach agency in the north of England has booked 250 coaches for the demo. That’s just one agency.”