Met Police chief appears at odds with No 10 after ‘jihad’ protest chants

The commissioner of the Metropolitan Police says laws for tackling extremism may need to be redrawn in light of pro-Palestinian protests around the Israel-Hamas war.

Sir Mark Rowley said it was for politicians to decide on “the line of the law” and for the police to enforce it.

However, he said recent events were “illustrating that maybe some of the lines aren’t quite in the right place”.

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The commissioner’s remarks came just an hour after Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s spokesman said there were no plans to make any legislative changes after the protests in recent weeks.

Home Secretary Suella Braverman met with Sir Mark earlier on Monday to challenge him over the decision not to arrest protestors chanting “jihad” in a video of a Hizb ut-Tahrir protest which surfaced over the weekend.

Jihad can mean struggle or effort, but it has also been taken to refer to holy war.

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The force posted on social media that specialist counterterrorism officers had not identified any offences arising from the clip.

Speaking ahead of the meeting, a source close to Ms Braverman said “there can be no place for incitement to hatred or violence” on UK streets and police should “crackdown on anyone breaking the law”.

But despite criticism from her and other ministers about the lack of arrest, a Downing Street spokesman said he was “unaware” of any plans to toughen up legislation to aid the police in acting.

Speaking after his meeting with the home secretary, Sir Mark defended officers’ actions, saying the force was “absolutely ruthless in tackling anybody who puts their foot over the legal line”.

But he said the police were “accountable for the law – we can’t enforce taste or decency but we can enforce the law”.

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley speaks to the media in Hackney, east London, as he publicised his force's new PC recruitment ad campaign. Picture date: Wednesday July 19, 2023.
Sir Mark Rowley spoke to broadcasters after a meeting with the home secretary.

The commissioner said the conversation with Ms Braverman had been “really constructive”, but finished around “the line of the law”.

He added: “It is our job to enforce to that line, it is parliament’s job to draw that line, and… maybe events of the moment are illustrating that maybe some of the lines aren’t quite in the right place”.

Sir Mark pointed to recent reports from the Counter Extremism Commission and the Law Commission “talking about how the law needs to change to be stronger in dealing with extremism”, adding: “I know the home secretary and her colleagues are really charged by that and thinking hard about that.”

But pushed further on what changes he wanted to see, the commissioner said: “The law that we have designed around hate crime and terrorism around recent decades hasn’t taken full account of the ability of extremist groups to steer round those laws and propagate some pretty toxic messages through social media, and those lines probably need redrawing.”

He also said there were “lessons to be learnt” from other forces who had “more assertive” frameworks, but he concluded: “That is for politicians and parliament to draw the line. I am focused on… enforcing the letter of the law.”

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has also called on the government to look at “gaps in the law” so stronger action can be taken against incidents like the jihad chant.