Rishi Sunak has condemned “wholly unacceptable” violence by 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.
Dozens of counter-protesters were arrested as hundreds of thousands of people took part in the biggest UK rally since the Israel-Hamas conflict began on October 7.
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”.
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
“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.
Police said there were 300,000 people on the march but organisers said the latest estimate was “more than 800,000”.
A total of 82 people were arrested in Tachbrook Street, Pimlico, to “prevent a breach of the peace” as the march passed through the capital.
Police said those arrested were part of a “large group” of counter-protesters who had “tried to reach the main protest march”.
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.
“Anyone genuinely wishing to observe the event could do so from behind barriers on the pavement which is open along one entire side of Whitehall. Officers’ efforts are on keeping the road itself clear around the Cenotaph.”
The force added that it “will use all the powers and tactics available to us to prevent” the counter-protesters from confronting the main march.
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 pro-Palestinian demonstration.
The Met Police has said it is “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.
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”.
Mr Sunak has faced growing calls to sack Suella Braverman as Home Secretary as she has been accused of inflaming tensions by branding pro-Palestinian demonstrators “hate marchers” and accusing the police of bias for letting the rally go ahead.