Keir Starmer has said that the right to protest is a “great British tradition” but told protesters to “respect” people mourning the Queen.
Civil liberties campaigners have expressed alarm over the way in which the police have cracked down on people voicing dissenting opinions on the change of the head of state with the accession of King Charles III to the throne.
“People have spent a long time waiting to come forward to have that moment as the coffin goes past or whatever it may be, I think respect that. Because people have made a huge effort to come and have that private moment to say thank you to Queen Elizabeth II, respect that,” Starmer told BBC Breakfast this morning.
“Obviously we have to respect the fact that some people disagree. One of the great British traditions is the ability to protest and to disagree. But I think it can be done in the spirit of respect.”
A 22-year-old has been charged with a breach of the peace on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh after being arrested on Monday. Police were seen pulling a man from the crowd after he allegedly suggested that Prince Andrew was a “sick old man”.
Another protester, a 22-year-old woman who held up a poster saying “Fuck imperialism, abolish monarchy”, was arrested in Edinburgh during the accession proclamation for the new King and charged with a breach of the peace – while one anti-monarchy protester was led away by police after holding up a placard saying “not my King” while King Charles addressed parliament.
A man was arrested in Oxford and then later de-arrested after shouting “who elected him?” at a public even proclaiming Charles III as King. A barrister with a blank sign was spoken to by police outside parliament, though not arrested.
“Respect the fact that hundreds of thousands of people do want to come forward and have that moment – don’t ruin it for them. But also we do need to respect the fact that other people must be entitled to express their different views,” the Labour leader told BBC viewers this morning.
Starmer said that he and his family will “pay our own personal respects to a remarkable sovereign” today, and remarked that it was “quite incredible” to see the strength of support for the Queen.
“It’s a very human emotion I think where people just want to come, have that private moment where they say thank you to a remarkable sovereign and reflect on the history we’re seeing in front of us,” he said, adding that the spectacle had been “very moving”.
Asked if the mourning and public commemorations were “too much” while households are struggling to make ends meet in the worst cost-of-living crisis in decades, he said: “I don’t think it has been over the top.
“When you see people queueing as I have this morning, when you see people coming to the side of the road just to be close to the coffin as it passes, nobody’s forcing anybody to do that. That is a human instinct, I think, to come forward at a moment like this.”
Starmer told viewers that he had the “great privilege” of meeting the new King on Saturday and asked him “how on earth is he dealing with the private grief that always comes when we lose a mother, with the very public responsibility he has.”
Campaigners and others have raised concerns over police handling of people expressing anti-monarchist views. The advocacy group Liberty said that new powers recently passed by parliament that allow the police to curtail protest, and how they were being enforced by officers, were a cause for deep concern.
Labour MP Zarah Sultana tweeted in response to incidents in Edinburgh: “No one should be arrested for just expressing republican views. Extraordinary – and shocking – that this needs saying.”
Starmer’s comments came after Labour MPs were told by the party leadership not to post anything on social media aside from tributes to the deceased Queen and what they have been asked to share by the Parliamentary Labour Party. They were also told not to do any media except to pay tribute in local outlets.