LONDON–Scotland Yard has launched an unexpected, last-minute crackdown on protests during Donald Trump’s visit to Britain—banning a stage and sound system from the main anti-Trump march and imposing tight restrictions on two further rallies.
Trump reportedly told Prime Minister Theresa May, during a phone call last year, that he would not come to Britain unless she could guarantee that he would not face mass protests.
Organizers say they expect 100,000 anti-Trump demonstrators to march through central London on Friday afternoon, but Trump’s visit has been carefully choreographed to ensure that he spends very little time in the capital and will not drive through the city’s streets at any time.
Despite Trump being out of London all day Friday, the police have enforced a virtual no-fly zone over the city, which will prevent news helicopters from getting aerial shots of the size of the crowds.
Michael Chessum, who is leading the stewarding operation for the march, said he had been in detailed negotiations with the Metropolitan Police for months over the event only for them to announce two days before the rally that the stage and sound system that was supposed to be installed at the start of the march would be banned.
The police said that decision had been made for safety reasons because no stewarding plan had been submitted. “It’s bollocks. It’s actively misleading bollocks,” Chessum told The Daily Beast. “They know that we could have provided that had they asked for it.”
“I don’t know why the police would want to do this,” he added. “It doesn't make any rational sense on logistical or safety grounds, and they’re refusing to have a conversation with us about that. So clearly there’s something else going on. But what that is? I don't know.”
The Stop Trump coalition had organized for a float decorated by children in South London to take part in the march, but that was also blocked by police.
Owen Jones, a prominent left-wing campaigner who was due to address the crowd, said he had never seen police ban the use of a stage in any of the demonstrations he has attended over the years. “The [Metropolitan Police] have suddenly denied permission for a stage and a sound system for the Trump protest. This has never happened before and is an attack on the right to protest and free expression,” he wrote on Twitter. “It’s also been suggested to me that the Government are leaning on them.”
A spokesman for Scotland Yard denied that the government had interfered in the policing operation, and said there was no time for further meetings with the protest organizers. “We have to work to a timescale and make appropriate decisions so that we can ensure safety and security and not too much disruption for Londoners,” he said. “Let’s bear in mind we’re certainly not a police state.”
The policing operation for the Trump visit is the largest since the London riots in 2011. Additional controls under the Public Order Act have also been placed on a “Welcome Trump” procession—and counter-protests—which are scheduled to begin at the U.S. Embassy south of the River Thames before marchers make their way into central London.
Trump refused to attend the opening of the embassy earlier this year after a war of words with Prime Minister Theresa May over his retweeting of propaganda videos posted by the far-right street organization Britain First. May condemned the president’s promotion of the anti-Muslim posts, and British lawmakers held a debate in parliament in order to unload on the president, calling him “fascist,” “evil,” and “racist” among other things.
Trump’s planned visit to open the embassy, which is surrounded by a moat, in January was expected to be marred by protests. The fear of huge, angry demonstrations has contributed to a delay of Trump’s formal state visit to Britain.
American officials in London felt that a smaller working visit would be easier to control, especially as the traditional drive through Central London into Buckingham Palace could be avoided. When President George W. Bush drove into the palace in November 2003, tens of thousands of anti-Iraq War protesters lined The Mall to scream abuse at him.
For most of this trip Trump will remain outside of London, popping into the city only to sleep at the ambassador’s residence in Regents Park. A band of protesters have taken up a vigil outside security fences that have been installed around Winfield House to keep them away.
A reality show about the U.S. embassy broadcast on Channel 4 caught Britain’s National Security Advisor Sir Mark Sedwill and the ambassador—and New York Jets owner—Woody Johnson discussing plans for Trump to visit.
Johnson could be heard suggesting it would be wise to get him to London once before they consider a more formal state visit. “Let’s get him here once. Once you get it then you know what you are dealing with,” he said.
Sedwill replies: “Then you have broken the issue.”
Trump insisted that he had no concerns about the trip when asked about the planned protests just before he left the NATO summit in Belgium. “I think it’s fine, I think they like me a lot in the U.K.,” he said.
The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, is not among his fans. The Labour politician—who became the first Muslim mayor of any major Western capital—called for Trump to be banned from visiting the city after the president’s Muslim travel ban. They have since engaged in a series of Twitter spats.
Khan gave the go-ahead last week for an enormous orange inflatable baby Trump to fly over London during his visit.
Protests in the suburban and rural areas where Trump will meet with May and then the queen are expected to be so large that police officers from forces around the country have been bussed in to help.
Many of those officers are being forced to sleep in rows of camp beds erected in large halls because of a lack of capacity to accommodate them.
David Jamieson, the West Midlands police and crime commissioner, said conditions were an “absolute disgrace.”
“No officer should be made to sleep on a camp bed, inches from the floor, in a sports hall with scores of colleagues only meters apart after a 12-hour shift,” he said.