Pro-Palestine protests are set to continue across the country on Saturday following Rishi Sunak’s warning that democracy is being targeted by extremists.

The Prime Minister warned about the current situation in Britain, in the aftermath of the October 7 attacks by Hamas against Israel, in an address to the nation on Friday.

Mr Sunak said there are “forces here at home trying to tear us apart”.

Speaking at a lectern outside the doors of No 10 Downing Street, Mr Sunak said “our democracy itself is a target” and decried a recent “shocking increase in extremist disruption and criminality”.

And he said the victory of George Galloway in the Rochdale by-election was “beyond alarming”.

He also spoke directly to those taking part in pro-Palestine protests, urging organisers to demonstrate peacefully and “with empathy”.

He said he had told senior police chiefs the public expected the protests to be policed rather than simply managed.

The Conservative Party leader said: “I want to speak directly to those who choose to continue to protest: don’t let the extremists hijack your marches.

“You have a chance in the coming weeks to show that you can protest decently, peacefully and with empathy for your fellow citizens.

“Let us prove these extremists wrong and show them that even when we disagree, we will never be disunited.”

The Prime Minister said a line has to be drawn so that while people should be able to “march and protest with passion” in support of Gaza, demonstrators “cannot call for violent jihad”, to justify the actions of Palestinian militant group Hamas — a proscribed group in the UK, which bans any show of support — or “call for the eradication of a state or any kind of hatred or antisemitism”.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer appeared to back the Prime Minister’s message calling for unity in the country.

In a statement, he said: “The Prime Minister is right to advocate unity and to condemn the unacceptable and intimidatory behaviour that we have seen recently.”

But his comments were also met with criticism, particularly from those he took aim at including Mr Galloway, who secured almost 40% of the vote in a constituency that has a strong Muslim population.

Politics poll
 Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer (Dan Kitwood, PA)

He accused Mr Sunak of using Britain’s Muslim population as a “whipping boy” and treating them as “second class voters”.

“And that is what he was doing in Downing Street today, a despicable and dangerous thing,” said the newly elected MP, who has become a divisive figure in British politics in recent decades.

“And secondly, alarmed at the growing support for Palestine, for Gaza in Britain, the attempt is being made to paint these peaceful demonstrators — almost always demonstrating without a single arrest being made, without so much as a paper cup being dropped — they are trying to conflate peaceful democratic protest in Britain with some kind of mob, with some kind of violence and intimidation.”

Speaking ahead of further planned protests across the country on Saturday, Ben Jamal, director of Palestine Solidarity Campaign, responded to the Prime Minister’s address by suggesting he “look in the mirror” and expel some senior MPs from his party.

Mr Jamal posted on X saying: “So Rishi Sunak wants to deal with ‘extremists’. Maybe he should start with politicians, political commentators and religious leaders who support a state, on trial for genocide, in its mass slaughter, and deliberate creation of famine. Not those protesting against it.

“As for his ire at those who seek to divide us, does he ever look in the mirror, or around his cabinet table? Come back when you’ve kicked Suella Braverman, Robert Jenrick (and) Michael Gove out. That’s just for starters.”

Further local protests are planned for this weekend before another national march, organised by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, takes place in central London on March 9.

Many of the actions this weekend are directed against Barclays Bank, which it claims holds “substantial financial ties with arms companies supplying weapons and military technology to Israel”.

Branches of the bank will be targeted on high streets from Abergavenny, in south Wales, to Worthing, in West Sussex, according to the group.