Police form Armistice Day ring of steel as protesters banned from Cenotaph

Protesters will be banned from going near the Cenotaph this weekend as police put the monument under a 24/7 ring of steel ahead of hundreds of thousands joining a pro-Palestine march.

The Metropolitan Police has confirmed exclusion zones will be imposed on Whitehall, Horse Guards Parade, the Westminster Abbey Field of Remembrance and other relevant areas, banning those on the march from these locations.

The Cenotaph will also be shielded by 24-hour police guard for the first time under a raft of measures announced ahead of the march on Saturday over fears far-right groups could spark violence.

Protesters joining the rally calling for a ceasefire in Gaza must stick to a pre-agreed march route, away from Whitehall and the war memorial. Anyone believed to be part of, or associated with, the pro-Palestinian demonstration trying to assemble in the exclusion zones can be arrested, police warned.

Double the usual number of officers will be on duty, with almost 2,000 expected to be deployed, including 1,000 drafted in from other forces.

In addition, police have imposed a 5pm curfew for the march and speeches, with dispersal zones in place in Trafalgar Square and Piccadilly Circus. Anyone refusing to disperse can be arrested.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak looks at the Remembrance Crosses (Stefan Rousseau/PA) (PA Wire)
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak looks at the Remembrance Crosses (Stefan Rousseau/PA) (PA Wire)

Police will also have additional powers to search people for weapons amid fears right-wing groups who have vowed to “defend” the Cenotaph could clash with pro-Palestine protesters. A Section 60 and 60AA power, allowing police to do so, will be in place around Westminster, Wandsworth and Lambeth between 10am on Saturday and 1am on Sunday.

The force has said this year’s Remembrance policing operation will be “far greater and more complex” than ever before, with organisers expecting up to half a million people at the rally.

A Met Police spokesman said: “We’ll be using an extensive set of powers to prevent any disruption whatsoever to remembrance events, policing the demonstration as it passes through parts of the capital, while protecting our communities from those intent on inciting hate, violence and disorder.

“The powers we’ve put in place enable us to more quickly and robustly identify and arrest those seeking to use these events to commit crime or cause disorder.”

There are fears of clashes with far-right groups after English Defence League founder Tommy Robinson and football groups issued calls to protect the Cenotaph after a week-long row erupted over whether the “disrespectful” protest should be banned.

Met commissioner Sir Mark Rowley has resisted pressure from Rishi Sunak and Suella Braverman to ban the event, insisting the risk of disruption does not meet the legal threshold to halt the march.

The coalition of organisers, which includes the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Stop the War and the Muslim Association of Britain, will march from Hyde Park at midday – about a mile from the war memorial in Whitehall - to the US embassy in Vauxhall, south of the Thames. The event begins an hour after two-minutes’ silence is observed at 11am.

The prime minister previously warned Sir Mark that he would hold him “accountable” for allowing the “provocative” demonstration to go ahead, but later conceded that the right to protest was among the freedoms that veterans had fought for.

Protesters at the entrance to Downing Street during a March for Palestine in London on October 14 (James Manning/PA) (PA Wire)
Protesters at the entrance to Downing Street during a March for Palestine in London on October 14 (James Manning/PA) (PA Wire)

However, Ms Braverman sensationally accused the Met of bias for previously stopping far-right protests but allowing the pro-Palestine rally to go ahead, in an article which was not cleared by No 10.

The Met has been policing weekly large-scale pro-Palestine protests since the Israel-Hamas conflict broke out on 7 October, with disruption caused by small numbers of breakout protesters.

“Over the last four major events we have made more than 100 arrests for offences including supporting proscribed organisations and serious hate crime,” the Met said.

“Each week we’ve developed our tactics to more quickly deal with anyone committing crime locally in our communities and at significant events. Our operation covers every element of this weekend and will continue to develop as we gather intelligence and learn of new issues.”