No plans for more police powers over “jihad” chants, Sunak signals

Police are unlikely to be given more powers to crack down on voices deemed extremist after comments at a protest in Palestine at the weekend, the prime minister said.

This comes despite suggestions from the Metropolitan Police chief that the laws may need to be redrawn, amid concerns about loopholes in current anti-extremism legislation.

Home Secretary Suella Braverman met Sir Mark Rowley on Monday, where they were expected to discuss the force's handling of a pro-Palestinian protester who shouted “jihad”.

Officers had said no offense was found in the footage from the protest in central London at the weekend.

Addressing MPs, Rishi Sunak said, “Where there are loopholes in the law, we are happy to address them and look into them.

“But we believe that at the moment the police have the powers to arrest those who incite violence or racial hatred, there is no place on our streets for this kind of behavior and we will be working extensively to clarify the guidance to officers on this so that they have full aware of the powers and tools at their disposal to make sure that these people feel the force of the law.”

The Met had pointed out that jihad has “a range of meanings” and said specialist counter-terrorism officers had not identified any offenses arising from the particular video as of Saturday.

Instead, officers spoke to the man to “discourage any repetition of similar chants.”

The Met chief defended the approach taken by the force as he suggested recent protests showed the current rules needed “rewriting”.

Sir Mark, before leading the Met, was involved in a report from 2021 which urged ministers to do more to tackle extremism.

The Commission's official watchdog for Countering Extremism concluded at the time that loopholes in existing legislation had made it harder to tackle “abhorrent extremism”.

Speaking to reporters after meeting the Home Secretary, Sir Mark said: “We are absolutely ruthless in dealing with anyone who puts their foot over the legal line. We are accountable to the law. We cannot enforce taste or decency, but we can enforce the law.'

The law we have designed around hate crime and terrorism over the last few decades has not fully taken into account the ability of extremist groups to follow these laws and spread their truly toxic messages through social media

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley

He added: “The debate really ended around the line of the law. It's our job to enforce that line. It is Parliament's job to draw that line. And the thought that maybe the events right now… maybe some of the lines are not in the right place.”

Sir Mark continued: “The law we have designed around hate crime and terrorism over the last few decades has not fully taken into account the ability of extremist groups to follow these laws and spread truly toxic messages through social media.

“These lines probably need a redesign.”

Former counter-extremism commissioner Dame Sara Khan was among those who took part in the report urging the government to take action on extremism.

“The government has not closed or addressed these loopholes in the law that our report highlighted,” he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

“The word jihad has a number of different meanings and the Met were right to point that out. I think it's really important that what we tried to highlight with the report is that there is a sub-section of extremist activity in this country that is operated and exploited by extremist groups.”

Labor leader Sir Keir Starmer also urged ministers to look at tackling “gaps in the law” as he warned of a “huge increase” in hate crimes in recent weeks.

A video posted on social media shows a man speaking into a microphone on Saturday in front of a banner reading “Muslim Armies! Save the people of Palestine.”

The main speaker asks, “What is the solution to freeing people from the concentration camp called Palestine?”

A man standing to the side of the speaker, but neither on the platform nor speaking into the microphone, can then be heard shouting words such as “jihad”, as can some others attending the protest.

Other clips posted on social media from the same protest show protesters using a microphone to talk about a “solution” to “jihad”.

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

The Met said specialist Crown Prosecution Service lawyers agreed no offense could be found in the video from the Hizb ut-Tahrir protest, which was separate from the main rally.

A Home Office readout of the meeting said Ms Braverman “recognised the complexity of the law in policing aspects of these protests and prosecutorial decisions”.

“The Home Secretary and the whole Government support the police as they continue to enforce the law against anyone suspected of committing an offense and will ensure that the police have what they need to maintain law and order.”

Concerns were also expressed about interventions by the Minister of the Interior in operational policing.

Former director of public prosecutions Lord Macdonald said the home secretary needed to be “a bit careful”.

“I don't think it's right for the Home Secretary to take the power herself to dictate what those decisions should be. I imagine he's not doing that, I imagine he's just expressing an opinion. But it's a view coming from the Home Secretary and it can have its own power,” he told BBC Radio 4's World At One programme.