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An Extinction Rebellion (XR) activist has been criticised after he described the annual Remembrance Day as a “little ritual”.
Army veteran and XR member Donald Bell helped unveil a banner reading ‘Honour Their Sacrifice, Climate Change Means War’ at the Cenotaph on Whitehall, in central London on Wednesday morning.
After the banner was displayed, Bell observed a two-minute silence before hanging a wreath of poppies bearing the message ‘act now’.
After a wave of criticism over the stunt – including from Boris Johnson and Sir Keir Starmer – Bell attempted to defend his actions on Thursday morning.
Did Extinction Rebellion disrespect our veterans?
XR member and Army veteran Donald Bell says XR staged a protest at the Cenotaph on Remembrance Day to 'stop a war'.
Mr Bell was also challenged for describing the Remembrance service as a 'little ritual'.@susannareid100 | #GMB pic.twitter.com/pjBxdabqXV
— Good Morning Britain (@GMB) November 12, 2020
But while speaking to ITV’s Good Morning Britain (GMB), Bell received further criticism for describing Remembrance Day as a “little ritual”.
When it was put to him that Remembrance Day was “not about climate change”, Bell responded: “Those soldiers gave their lives for our futures so that we could live in peace.
“So when we have a government that ignores this climate emergency that we're in, their inaction is a crime.
“When they turn up there every year for their little ritual, that is a sign of disrespect as far as I'm concerned.”
When asked to clarify if he was referring to Remembrance Day, Bell added: “Yes. As far as the political side of this country is concerned, it's just something they go through every year and I don't feel they they really respect that massive loss of life.”
Watch: Extinction Rebellion stage climate change protest at Cenotaph
Bell, 64, who completed four tours in Northern Ireland during the Troubles, had previously said his actions were in response to the government’s “Dad’s Army” approach to protecting the country from climate change.
Following Wednesday’s stunt, the prime minister’s spokesman said: “The Cenotaph is a memorial to those who fought and died to preserve all our freedoms.
“On today, of all days, when we join together to pay tribute to our war dead, this action was profoundly disrespectful.”
Donald Bell for @XRebellionUK just described Remembrance Day as a ‘little ritual’ on @GMB . To my 90 year old father and the millions and millions who watch the Remembrance programmes on @BBCOne - Remembrance Day is NOT a little ritual ... @susannareid100 @benshephard
— Jonathan Shalit OBE (Hon Prof) (@jonathanshalit) November 12, 2020
Just seen the man who hijacked the Cenotaph yesterday refer to Remembrance Day live on TV as a "little ritual"! 😡😡😡 It's not a "little ritual"! Yet more disgrace for @XRebellionUK https://t.co/acB4xzhv2u
— Justin Allen (@justinallen1976) November 12, 2020
A spokesman for Labour leader Starmer added: “No one can doubt how serious the climate emergency is, but the protests at the Cenotaph are wrong.
“They are in bad taste. We do not support them.”
The Royal British Legion also hit out at the group’s stunt, saying the day was not a time for political protest.
An RBL spokesman added: “War memorials and graves honour the memory of every member of the Armed Forces who has made the ultimate sacrifice and deserve to be treated with the utmost respect.”
Watch: Extinction Rebellion criticised for ‘profoundly disrespectful’ protest at Cenotaph