Unlock the Editor’s Digest for free
Roula Khalaf, Editor of the FT, selects her favourite stories in this weekly newsletter.
Communities secretary Michael Gove has asked the Treasury for up to £50mn to counter radical ideologies in Britain, after ministers acknowledged that the fallout from the Israel-Hamas war had exposed flaws in their strategy.
Gove wants the money to rebuild Britain’s counter-extremism efforts, according to senior government insiders. One admitted: “We’ve taken our eye off the ball.”
The development came as Rishi Sunak on Wednesday conceded that a pro-Palestinian demonstration, set to take place on Armistice Day on Saturday, was likely to go ahead.
Speaking after a meeting with Sir Mark Rowley, Metropolitan Police chief, the prime minister said the planned protest was “disrespectful” but that those who had died for Britain had fought for freedom, which included “the right to peacefully protest”.
There have been pro-Palestinian demonstrations in central London every weekend since October 14, each attended by tens of thousands of people and largely peaceful.
The Metropolitan Police has made some arrests as a result of what it has called “violence and criminality by small groups attaching themselves to demonstrations”.
Senior ministers met at the Cobra emergency committee on Tuesday to discuss the crisis in Gaza and Israel and to consider how to tackle a rise in radical views and communal tensions in Britain.
One person briefed on the meeting said: “Clearly there is a lack of capacity and a skills gap in this space. There’s a gap in our ability to assess, understand and act.”
Ministers agreed that counter-radicalism initiatives set up after the 9/11 attacks and the 2005 London bombings had become less effective in recent years, with responsibility falling between Gove’s communities department and the Home Office.
Treasury insiders confirmed that Gove had asked for more money ahead of this month’s Autumn Statement. Chancellor Jeremy Hunt is considering the request.
Officials briefed on Gove’s plans said he wanted money to build a capacity to counter radical ideologies, including supporting moderate Muslim voices and improving English language teaching.
A government spokesperson said: “We are clear there is no place for extremism, and over the last few years we have taken action to tackle hatred and those who seek to divide us.
“As you would expect, we keep our approach to tackling extremism under review to ensure it meets the evolving challenge it poses.”
Meanwhile, Sunak called Rowley in to Downing Street on Wednesday for crunch talks, a move that earned plaudits from Tory MPs.
Former cabinet minister Sir Simon Clarke said it was “damn right” that Rowley should be summoned to explain the force’s thinking, after the commissioner said there were no legal grounds for banning the protest.
After the meeting, Sunak said the protest “offends our heartfelt gratitude” to personnel and veterans who have served in the British military.
He noted that the police had confirmed the protest would remain away from the Cenotaph, the focal point of the weekend, and avoid timings that clashed with Remembrance events.
But he added that Rowley had committed to keeping the Met’s posture “under constant review”, based on intelligence about the nature of the protests.
Before the meeting, Sunak warned that Rowley would be held “accountable” for allowing the march to go ahead. He said he had asked the force to provide information on how it would “safeguard remembrance for the country this weekend as well as keep the public safe”.
Rowley has come under growing political pressure to intervene and block the march. Such a move would require the force to ask home secretary Suella Braverman to ban the march because of a risk of a serious public disorder threat that could not be countered by other measures.
Culture secretary Lucy Frazer, who is Jewish, told LBC on Wednesday that the Met should keep the “very provocative” march “under review”, while health secretary Steve Barclay predicted discussions would remain “ongoing” about whether the legal thresholds to cancel the protest were met.
Braverman has taken a hardline stance on pro-Palestinian protests, labelling them “hate marches”.
The Met has so far stood its ground. Senior police officers said they were working closely with organisers including the Palestine Solidarity Campaign to ensure there was no disruption to Remembrance Day events, and had been tightening surveillance of the protests.
The police have also made dozens of recent arrests in connection with hate crimes and public order offences, both at the marches and in separate incidents of violence, antisemitism and Islamophobia in London.
Rowley said on Monday said there had been an escalation of violence and criminality by small groups attaching themselves to the Saturday demonstrations but that key organisers had been “working positively with us”.