UK home secretary may tighten restrictions on protests

<span>James Cleverly has said pro-Palestine protesters have ‘made their point’.</span><span>Photograph: Jonathan Brady/PA</span>
James Cleverly has said pro-Palestine protesters have ‘made their point’.Photograph: Jonathan Brady/PA

The home secretary, James Cleverly, is considering further tightening the law around demonstrations, including a requirement for protesters to increase the amount of notice they give to police before large demonstrations, a minister has said.

Extending the notice period from six days to “a couple of weeks” in England and Wales for “very, very large protests with tens of thousands of people” would make planning easier for the police, said Chris Philp, the policing minister, as he stressed that the government would not seek to prevent future pro-Palestinian protests.

The measures are being considered as organisers of pro-Palestine protests rejected criticism by Cleverly – who said they had “made their point” – and vowed to continue with regular demonstrations.

Cleverly told the Times: “The question I ask myself is: what are these protests genuinely hoping to achieve?”

Groups behind the marches said they were in talks with police about another major demonstration in London on 9 March, and they used a press conference in parliament to accuse Scotland Yard of “politicised, heavy-handed and violent” policing of events.

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) and others said they would deliver a dossier of complaints to the Metropolitan police at a meeting on Friday, which includes the claim that the force waged a Twitter campaign against demonstrations using language that implied they were threatening or dangerous.

Liberty, which launched a legal challenge against the government over “anti-protest” laws on Friday, used the event to question why the government was talking about the need for new laws on protesting when measures in relation to wearing face coverings and war memorials had recently been introduced.

“Legislation aside, there is extremely divisive rhetoric coming from parliamentarians, from people who frankly should know better – we are seeing increasingly inflammatory language being used, with protests being described as ‘hate marches’,” said Ruth Ehrlich, the head of policy and campaigns at Liberty.

Rishi Sunak, Cleverly and Philp were due to meet police chiefs on Wednesday to discuss what more could be done to bolster MPs’ security amid heightened concern over their safety.

Philp said: “Our view is when it comes to the private houses, the personal houses of elected representatives where their families, their children, could be present as well, that is not in our view a legitimate venue for protest.”

The PSC said on Wednesday that it did not support protests outside MPs’ homes but considered constituency offices as legitimate places to demonstrate.

Cleverly has announced a £31m funding package to improve MPs’ security that will include providing politicians with a dedicated police contact with which to liaise.

Officials say even prospective candidates and elected representatives across all levels will have a dedicated named contact. The investment will be used to enhance police capabilities, increase private-sector security provisions for those facing a higher risk and to expand cybersecurity advice.

Sunak on Tuesday rejected a suggestion that MPs should be able to speak and vote from their constituencies because of concerns about security at Westminster. Downing Street said the prime minister believed it was “really important that we maintain parliament as a place for free debate and expression of views”.

Concerns have been raised over the government’s measures, with some MPs saying the debate around politicians’ security had become one-sided.

The Labour MP John McDonnell warned on Wednesday against “chipping away” at protest rights, saying: “That sort of thing pushes people to the extremes rather than maintaining confidence in our democratic system.”

After the Commons speaker, Lindsay Hoyle, broke with precedent over the selection of a Labour amendment to an SNP motion on Gaza because he had concerns about the intimidation faced by some MPs, Labour’s Jess Phillips argued she had “got on the tube with some protesters as I left to head back to Birmingham and we chatted cordially and kindly”.