Suella Braverman to question Met Police chief over jihad chant at rally

Home secretary Suella Braverman will question Metropolitan Police chief Sir Mark Rowley over the force’s response to demonstrators who chanted “jihad” during a pro-Palestinian protest in London.

Several hundred people attended a protest outside the Egyptian and Turkish embassies on Saturday organised by Hizb ut-Tahrir, and a handful were filmed shouting “jihad” when asked by a speaker what should be done to “liberate people in the concentration camp called Palestine”.

Scotland Yard said its specialist counterterrorism officers had assessed the footage and did not identify any offences, pointing out that the word “jihad” has numerous meanings.

But the Met said officers would be visiting the speaker to “discourage any repeat of similar chanting”, in recognition of “the way language like this will be interpreted by the public and the divisive impact it will have”.

However, Ms Braverman is expected to raise the incident at a scheduled meeting on Monday with the Met Commissioner to discuss the ongoing protests sparked by the war between Israel and Hamas, after the terrorist group massacred some 1,400 Israelis.

“The home secretary is already due to meet the Metropolitan Police commissioner tomorrow [Monday] to discuss the ongoing Israel-Gaza protests and will be asking for an explanation over the response to incidents which took place on Saturday,” a source close to Ms Braverman told multiple outlets.

The source added: “There can be no place for incitement to hatred or violence on Britain’s streets and, as the home secretary has made clear, the police are urged to crack down on anyone breaking the law.”

Earlier on Sunday, immigration minister Robert Jenrick said: “I think a lot of people would find the Metropolitan Police analysis surprising, and that’s something that we intend to raise with them and to discuss this incident with them.”

Ms Braverman’s cabinet colleague Mark Harper said that the footage from the weekend was “disturbing” and said she would “make it clear that the government thinks the full force of the law should be used” in her meeting with Mr Rowley.

Footage showed several men shouting ‘jihad’ at the march organised by Hizb ut-Tahrir (screengrab)
Footage showed several men shouting ‘jihad’ at the march organised by Hizb ut-Tahrir (screengrab)

“The police are operationally independent, which I think is appropriate, and they will have to explain the reasons for the decisions they have taken,” he added on Times Radio.

Asked about the video appearing to show a Tube driver leading chants on the London Underground of “free Palestine”, Mr Harper said: “I saw that clip and on the face of it, it was disturbing, but I know the British Transport Police and Transport for London are investigating that.”

In 2021, Sir Mark himself co-authored a report for the commission on countering extremism, which warned ministers of a “gaping chasm” in laws allowing “extremists to operate with impunity”.

The Hizb ut-Tahrir demonstration was separate to the march which saw 100,000 people march in support of Palestine on Saturday (AFP via Getty Images)
The Hizb ut-Tahrir demonstration was separate to the march which saw 100,000 people march in support of Palestine on Saturday (AFP via Getty Images)

And Britain’s former head of counter-terrorism policing Neil Basu pointed out that the government had been previously told about gaps in UK law which allowed words such as “jihad” to be shouted at rallies – but that ministers did not act to close them.

Following Mr Jenrick’s remarks, Mr Basu told The Guardian: “Your eyes were opened to the glaring anomaly in the law. You did not take it up at the time and it is worth revisiting.

“For the government and ministers to attack the Met is thus unjustified,” he added. “The police need support at this challenging time. If the government don’t like the law, it can change it, as it has been asked to do.”

No 10 has indicated there are no plans to give police more powers to address chants deemed to be extremist after “jihad” comments made at a pro-Palestine rally. Pressed if there are then no plans to give police more powers, Rishi Sunak’s spokesman: “I’m not aware of any, no.”

The spokesman added: “We do believe the police have extensive powers in this space and we will continue to discuss with them so there is clarity and agreement about how they can be deployed on the ground.”

Mr Sunak’s spokesman says some of the protest scenes were “incredibly distressing” – but “operational decision” for police to decide if they incite violence.

No 10 also suggested Scotland Yard was unwise to explain why they had not taken action against chants of “jihad” with theological explanations.

Asked if “lectures” were unwise, Mr Sunak’s spokesman said: “It’s for the Met to explain their communication policies… But first and foremost we want the police out there on the ground keeping people safe.”

The meaning of jihad is interpreted as “exerted effort” or struggle by most Islamic sholars. This can commonly refer to a believer’s internal struggle for self-improvement, but can also mean a struggle against acts of injustice, which can refer to holy war.

The small protest at the centre of the row between government and the Met was separate from the march which saw an estimated 100,000 people walk through the capital in support of Palestinians under heavy Israeli bombardment in Gaza, where more than 4,300 people have died in the past fortnight.