Police were pelted with bottles during confrontations in central London after large crowds gathered claiming they were there to protect statues from Black Lives Matter protesters.
Hundreds of mostly white men converged on Parliament Square on Saturday after far-right groups, including Britain First, called on supporters to guard the monuments.
Many of those present were drinking and there were a number of clashes with police in riot gear as crowds chanting ‘England’ and raising their arms surged towards lines of officers.
“Thoroughly unacceptable thuggery”
As several hundred demonstrators blocked roads around Parliament Square, police tried to corral them onto the pavements.
Other officers, some holding shields, remained in a line blocking access to the Cenotaph in Whitehall, while some in the crowd screamed abuse at them.
Their behaviour was slammed by Home Secretary Priti Patel, who tweeted: “Thoroughly unacceptable thuggery.
Throughly unacceptable thuggery.— Priti Patel (@pritipatel) June 13, 2020
Any perpetrators of violence or vandalism should expect to face the full force of the law. Violence towards our police officers will not be tolerated.
Coronavirus remains a threat to us all. Go home to stop the spread of this virus & save lives. https://t.co/HsOx9cgrqD
“Any perpetrators of violence or vandalism should expect to face the full force of the law. Violence towards our police officers will not be tolerated.”
“I urge people to stay away”
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan also took to Twitter to condemn the violence, writing: “This is totally unacceptable. We will not tolerate attacks on our police and perpetrators will feel the full force of the law.
“It is clear that far right groups are causing violence and disorder in central London, I urge people to stay away.”
This is totally unacceptable. We will not tolerate attacks on our police and perpetrators will feel the full force of the law.— Mayor of London (gov.uk/coronavirus) (@MayorofLondon) June 13, 2020
It is clear that far right groups are causing violence and disorder in central London, I urge people to stay away. https://t.co/4fzPEbwCQD
Winston Churchill, Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi
On Friday, statues in Parliament Square including of Winston Churchill, Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi, were boarded up to prevent them being targeted by protesters both from the Black Lives Matter movement and far-right groups.
Police on horseback pushed back demonstrators near the statues of Mandela and Gandhi on Saturday as protesters continued to throw objects towards them, including at least one smoke bomb.
Large groups of far-right protesters moved to Trafalgar Square, where fireworks were thrown across the crowds.
Police attempted to stop them getting to Hyde Park where a Black Lives Matter demonstration, which had largely been peaceful, was taking place.
The violence continued as some protesters managed to break metal barriers around the Cenotaph on Whitehall while hurling flag poles, a smoke flare and a traffic cone towards police who were striking them back with batons.
“Guard our monuments”
Speaking before the clashes, Paul Golding, leader of Britain First, said the crowds had turned out to “guard our monuments”, telling the PA news agency: “I am extremely fed up with the way that the authorities have allowed two consecutive weekends of vandalism against our national monuments.
“I’ve got things I don’t want to remember, but I wouldn’t go smashing things up because of it.”
Daisy, a 26-year-old from Pimlico, passed demonstrators in Parliament Square as she went for a run at around 10.30am on Saturday morning and claimed many were already drinking alcohol.
“They were all drinking beers and there was already loads of cans lying round on the floor treating it like it was some sort of football away-day,” she told PA.
“It was a really tense and hostile atmosphere. I didn’t stay too long… it was really uncomfortable.”
Black Lives Matter
In an attempt to avoid a repeat of last week’s sporadic clashes with officers during BLM protests, the Metropolitan Police warned people joining demonstrations on Saturday that they must be off the streets by 5pm or risk being arrested.
In response to the statements by far right groups, BML organisers urged supporters to stay away from central London on Saturday.
There were similar gatherings on Saturday in Belfast, Glasgow and Bristol with crowds massing around monuments.
In Brighton, more than 1,000 protesters formed a line along the seafront in a Black Lives Matter demonstration.
Protests against police brutality and racism have erupted all over the UK and across the globe following the death of African-American George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police nearly three weeks ago.
Last week, the statue of slave trader Edward Colston was pulled down and dumped into Bristol harbour by Black Lives Matter protesters, while the UK’s war-time Prime Minister memorial in London was defaced with the words “was a racist”.