The Metropolitan police commissioner, Sir Mark Rowley, has defied calls for a ban on a pro-Palestinian march through London on Armistice Day as he insisted on the independence of his force amid intense government pressure to act.
In a statement in which he acknowledged the demands for him to stop Saturday’s procession, Rowley insisted there was currently insufficient intelligence that there would be a risk of serious public disorder.
He stressed the importance of an “independent police service … focused simply on the law and the facts in front of us”, despite a chorus of cabinet ministers – including the home secretary and the justice secretary – insisting that the march should not go ahead.
While vowing “at all costs” to stop any disruption linked to the march, which falls on 11 November when the nation will hold a two-minute silence in commemoration of those who have died in conflict, Rowley said he would not act outside the law.
Under section 13 of the 1986 Public Order Act, a chief constable can apply to the home secretary to prohibit public processions to avoid serious public disorder.
Rowley said: “Many have called for us to use this power to ban a planned march by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign on Saturday.
“But the use of this power is incredibly rare and must be based on intelligence which suggests there will be a real threat of serious disorder and no other way for police to manage the event …
“Over recent weeks we’ve seen an escalation of violence and criminality by small groups attaching themselves to demonstrations, despite some key organisers working positively with us.
“But at this time, the intelligence surrounding the potential for serious disorder this weekend does not meet the threshold to apply for a ban.
“The organisers have shown complete willingness to stay away from the Cenotaph and Whitehall and have no intention of disrupting the nation’s remembrance events. Should this change, we’ve been clear we will use powers and conditions available to us to protect locations and events of national importance at all costs.”
Those attending the pro-Palestine marches in recent weeks have been calling for a ceasefire in the war that broke out last month after Hamas killed 1,400 people, mainly civilians, in Israel and took more than 200 hostages.
Thousands of civilians in Gaza have been killed in the Israeli military operation since, according to Gaza’s health authority, which is run by Hamas.
Saturday’s protest is scheduled to start at 12.45pm at Marble Arch and end at the US embassy in south-west London, about two miles from the Cenotaph, where formal remembrance events will be held the next day.
The police chief’s stance is likely to provoke anger in government where there had been an expectation that Rowley would ask the home secretary, Suella Braverman, for permission to prohibit the march. Ministers had been raising the prospect of disorder for days.
The Campaign Against Antisemitism on Tuesday night called for the home secretary to trigger draconian powers and even send in the army to “uphold the values that our country stands for”.
In a letter to Braverman, the group called on her to use powers under section 40 of the Police Act 1996 to ensure that this weekend’s protests are banned. The section allows the home secretary to step in when the police force is failing to discharge any of its functions in an effective manner.
Section 13 of the Public Order Act was last used in 2011 to stop a protest by the far-right English Defence League.
Home Office sources had said the risks of Saturday’s march included groups splintering off from the main procession, the danger of counter-protests clashing with pro-Palestine demonstrators and the unusual route of the march.
The founder of the EDL, Tommy Robinson, whose real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, had tweeted: “Saturday 11/11/11 London [a reference to the timing of the two-minute silence], your country needs you.”
Sources said the Met would keep seeking and assessing intelligence up until the weekend, and could still seek a ban if the threat reached what it viewed as the legal threshold.
Rowley said: “If over the next few days the intelligence evolves, and we reach a threshold where there is a real threat of serious disorder we will approach the home secretary. Right now, we remain focused on the facts in front of us and developing our plan to ensure the highest levels of protection for events throughout the weekend.”
In his statement, the Met commissioner added he understood the significance of this Remembrance weekend: “I completely recognise the significant public and political concern about the impact of ongoing protest and demonstrations on this moment of national reflection. Therefore I am determined we will do everything in our power to ensure they pass without disruption.
“The reason we have an independent police service is so that among debate, opinion, emotion and conflict we stand in the centre, focused simply on the law and the facts in front of us.
“The laws created by parliament are clear. There is no absolute power to ban protest, therefore there will be a protest this weekend.
“The law provides no mechanism to ban a static gathering of people. It contains legislation which allows us to impose conditions to reduce disruption and the risk of violence, and in the most extreme cases when no other tactics can work, for marches or moving protests to be banned.”
Gideon Falter, chief executive of Campaign Against Antisemitism, said: “If the Met is unable or unwilling to protect our freedoms and values this Remembrance Day weekend, we call on the home secretary to issue section 40 directives to force the Met into action, and call in the army to do what their predecessors did and uphold the values that our country stands for.”
Lawyers for the march organisers, led by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, said they would study the grounds if a ban was sought ahead of launching a potential court battle by seeking a judicial review.
Braverman has described the pro-Palestine protests as “hate marches”. Critics of the home secretary have accused her of fuelling anger and the potential for trouble.
Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, said Labour backed the police to make the right decision but suggested Braverman had been “encouraging people to exploit tensions and exploit situations and make them harder for the police to sort out”.