Rishi Sunak is facing intensifying calls to sack Suella Braverman for stoking tensions ahead of Armistice Day protests, with Sir Keir Starmer accusing the Home Secretary of spawning “hatred and distrust”.
Pressure mounted on Mrs Braverman amid scenes of far-right violence towards officers on Saturday, after she branded pro-Palestinian demonstrators “hate marchers” and accused the police of bias for letting the rally go ahead.
Dozens of counter-protesters were arrested, including many trying to confront those participating in the march which Mr Sunak and Mrs Braverman had urged police to ban.
Nine officers were injured as they prevented a crowd of mainly football hooligans reaching the Cenotaph, with Assistant Commissioner Matt Twist calling their “extreme violence” towards the police “extraordinary and deeply concerning”.
“A week of intense debate about protest and policing” helped “increase community tensions”, he said.
Sir Keir said few public figures “have done more recently to whip up division” than the Home Secretary.
The Labour leader said her and the Prime Minister’s treatment of the police and protesters showed a “lack of respect for this country’s values and its principles”.
Mr Sunak has so far maintained confidence in his Home Secretary, even after a week in which ministers distanced themselves from her claims homelessness is a “lifestyle choice”.
There has been speculation that the Prime Minister will carry out a ministerial reshuffle, which could see Mrs Braverman moved, but not before next week’s Supreme Court ruling on the Rwanda deportation policy championed by her.
But her incendiary language on “pro-Palestinian mobs” has angered many, including within the Tory party, with demands for her to go increasing.
In a comment piece in the Sunday Telegraph, Sir Keir wrote: “The Home Secretary and the Prime Minister’s treatment of the police and protestors alike this week – coming just a few days after she shamefully described homelessness as ‘a lifestyle choice’ – betray a total lack of respect for this country’s values and its principles.
“Few people in public life have done more recently to whip up division, set the British people against one another and sow the seeds of hatred and distrust than Suella Braverman. In doing so, she demeans her office.”
Sir Keir said some among the pro-Palestinian demonstrators incited violence, glorified Hamas or called for Israel’s destruction and “should be dealt with firmly by the law”.
But he said blanket calls to cancel the rallies and Government attempts to brand protesters they do not agree with as extremists are “a sign of ministers’ cowardice”.
Shadow home secretary Yvette 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.”
Hate will never win. We must stand together: it's what London does best.
My statement on events today: pic.twitter.com/7hnKV71SxM
— Sadiq Khan (@SadiqKhan) November 11, 2023
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan 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”.
Scottish First Minister Humza Yousaf earlier called for Mrs Braverman to resign.
The SNP leader tweeted: “The far right has been emboldened by the Home Secretary. She has spent her week fanning the flames of division. They are now attacking the police on Armistice Day.
“The Home Secretary’s position is untenable. She must resign.”
Hope Not Hate echoed the demand, with the campaign group’s chief executive Nick Lowles saying the Home Secretary has “inflamed tensions and, as we have seen today, whipped up the far right into a violent frenzy. She’s got to go”.
But Mrs Braverman has supporters on the right of the party and any move against her by Mr Sunak could deepen divisions within Tory ranks.
Conservative former minister Brendan Clarke-Smith defended the Home Secretary, saying: “I’ve heard some daft takes, but to try and justify this appalling behaviour by blaming an op-ed in The Times, which simply stated the flaming obvious, is pathetic.”
Tory backbencher Danny Kruger said: “You know what, with the benefit of hindsight, maybe it would have been best if the march today hadn’t been allowed to go ahead.”
Mrs Braverman rowed back her language on the eve of Armistice Day, giving police her “full backing” at a meeting with Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley.
It came after her article in The Times, in which she claimed officers “play favourites” towards pro-Palestinian protesters, was disowned by Downing Street and provoked fury among Tory MPs.