No 10 says police have extensive powers to act against chants of ‘jihad’ | Metropolitan police

Downing Street has argued that police already have “extensive powers” to take action against demonstrators who chanted about “jihad” in London at the weekend, as Keir Starmer said ministers should plug any gaps in the law.

Suella Braverman, the home secretary, has held talks with the Met police commissioner, Sir Mark Rowley, after video footage from a rally on Saturday organised by the Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir showed a man talking about Palestine and asking what the solution was, before the word “jihad” was heard.

The Met said “jihad” had numerous meanings and it believed, after consultation with the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), that no offence had been committed.

While Britain’s former head of counter-terrorism, Neil Basu, told the Guardian the government was aware of legal loopholes that could allow words such as “jihad” to be shouted at rallies, No 10 pushed back against the idea of any need to tighten legislation.

“We do believe that police have extensive powers in this space,” Rishi Sunak’s official spokesperson said, when asked if officers could or should have done more. “We will continue to discuss with them so that there is clarity and agreement about how they can be deployed on the ground.”

On Sunday, the immigration minister, Robert Jenrick, said the use of “jihad” at the Hizb ut-Tahrir rally, which was separate from a much larger pro-Palestine rally, was “inciting terrorist violence” and needed “to be tackled with the full force of the law”.

Sunak’s spokesperson declined to endorse this view, while saying that the scenes “will have likely have been incredibly distressing for people to witness, not least for the UK’s Jewish community, who deserve to feel safe at what must be an incredibly traumatic time”.

He said: “That’s why the government is working so closely with the police and other groups to ensure there is clarity for those officers on the ground to take action where they believe the law has been broken.

“That decision is an operational one and will remain so, and that is right. But we will continue to discuss with the police about what more can be done.”

Basu, who was formerly Britain’s most senior counter-terrorism officer and an assistant commissioner in the Met, said the government had been advised of possible gaps on the law in this area.

In 2021, a report on tackling extremism, co-authored by Rowley before he was head of the Met, told the government laws should be toughened, with the conclusions supported by counter-terrorism policing.

The report for the Commission on Countering Extremism, which advises the government, warned of a “gaping chasm” in laws allowing “extremists to operate with impunity”.

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Speaking on Monday, Starmer, who was director of public prosecutions before entering politics, said that, while it was a matter for the police, ministers should look into lessons from the review co-led by Rowley.

“I think there have already been identified some gaps in the law in a previous review under this government and I think the government needs to look at whether there are gaps in the law that need to be addressed as well,” the Labour leader told reporters on a visit to Wales.

Basu said his message to ministers was: “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. The report from the Commission for Countering Extremism in 2021 pointed out a series of gaps in the law.

“For the government and ministers to attack the Met is thus unjustified. 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.”

The Met had specialist lawyers in counter-terrorism law from the CPS in its control room monitoring the protests alongside police commanders on Saturday.


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