Rishi Sunak says UK ‘must face down extremists undermining democracy’ saying forces ‘ trying to tear us apart’

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  • March 2, 2024
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Rishi Sunak has said UK democracy is being targeted amid the ongoing Israel-Gaza conflict, saying Britain’s streets had been hijacked by groups hostile to British values.

Mr Sunak said in a Downing Street address that there were “forces here at home trying to tear us apart”, and criticised the victory of George Galloway in the Rochdale by-election, describing it as “beyond alarming”.

Mr Sunak said: “Threats of violence and intimidation are alien to our way of doing things, they must be resisted at all times.

“Nearly everyone in Britain supports these basic values but there are small and vocal hostile groups who do not. Islamist extremists and the far-right feed off and embolden each other.

“They are equally desperate to pretend their violence is justified, when actually these groups are two sides of the same extremist coin.”

George Galloway

AFP via Getty Images

Few measures were announced in the speech, although the Prime Minister vowed to “redouble” support for Prevent, an anti-extremism programme, and to cancel the visas of those seeking to enter the country to “spew hate”.

He also spoke directly to those taking part in pro-Palestine protests, urging organisers to demonstrate peacefully and “with empathy”.

He said he had told senior police chiefs the public expected the protests to be policed rather than simply managed.

Pro-Palestine protests were set to continue across the country on Saturday.

“In recent weeks and months, we have seen a shocking increase in extremist disruption and criminality,” Mr Sunak said.

“What started as protests on our streets have descended into intimidation, threats and planned acts of violence.

“Jewish children, fearful to wear their school uniform lest it reveals their identity. Muslim women abused in the street for the actions of a terrorist group they have no connection with.

“Now our democracy itself is a target. Council meetings and local events have been stormed. MPs do not feel safe in their homes. Long-standing parliamentary conventions have been upended because of safety concerns.

“And it’s beyond alarming that last night, the Rochdale by-election returned a candidate that dismisses the horror of what happened on October 7, who glorifies Hezbollah and is endorsed by Nick Griffin, the racist former leader of the BNP.”

Mr Galloway, a former Labour and Respect MP received around 40 per cent of the vote in Rochdale, winning the bitterly-fought seat with a 5,697 majority.

Responding to the Prime Minister’s criticism of his position on the Israel-Hamas conflict, Mr Galloway said the Conservatives were “crushed” in the Rochdale by-election.

He said on Sky News: “They said all these things about me in the by-election, and in the by-election, it was them that got crushed in the democratic process.”

Pressed on Mr Sunak’s criticism, he added: “We’re talking about little Rishi Sunak in the fag-end of his prime ministership.

“Don’t talk to me as if he’s come down from the mount with tablets of stone, that the things he says are somehow meant to awe me … I’ve got the democratic mandate here, he didn’t even second, he didn’t even come third.”

Last week, a Commons debate on a ceasefire was marred by a controversy after Speaker Lindsay Hoyle gave MPs a vote on a Labour amendment during an SNP debate – which he said was to ensure MPs’ safety.

Activists earlier this month targeted the home of Conservative back-bencher Tobias Ellwood, forcing his family to stay away from the property, while the family homes of both Mr Sunak and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer have also been set upon by environmental protesters in past months.

Mr Sunak was criticised earlier this week after declining to condemn remarks by MP Lee Anderson – who accused Mayor Sadiq Khan of being controlled by Islamists – as Islamophobic.

Mr Anderson was suspended as a Conservative MP.

Responding to Mr Sunak’s address, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer appeared to back the Prime Minister’s message calling for unity in the country.

In a statement, he said: “The Prime Minister is right to advocate unity and to condemn the unacceptable and intimidatory behaviour that we have seen recently.

“It is an important task of leadership to defend our values and the common bonds that hold us together.

“Citizens have a right to go about their business without intimidation and elected representatives should be able to do their jobs and cast their votes without fear or favour.

“This is something agreed across the parties and which we should all defend.”

However, Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey added: “The British people will take no lessons from a Prime Minister and Conservative Party who have sowed the seeds of division for years.”