Extremists are trying to undermine British democracy, PM warns

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Prime Minister Rishi Sunak makes a statement from Downing Street. Picture by Simon Dawson / No 10 Downing Street CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 DEED

Extremists are trying to undermine British democracy, the Prime Minister warned on Friday as he called for the country to come together and “beat this poison”.

Rishi Sunak made the statement outside Downing Street on 1 March 2024.

A transcript of the speech is below:

In recent weeks and months, we have seen a shocking increase in extremist disruption and criminality. 

What started as protests on our streets, has descended into intimidation, threats, and planned acts of violence.

Jewish children fearful to wear their school uniform lest it reveal their identity.

Muslim women abused in the street for the actions of a terrorist group they have no connection with. 

Now our democracy itself is a target. 

Council meetings and local events have been stormed. 

MPs do not feel safe in their homes. 

Long standing Parliamentary conventions have been upended because of safety concerns. 

[Please note political content redacted here.]

I need to speak to you all this evening because this situation has gone on long enough…

…and demands a response not just from government, but from all of us.

Britain is a patriotic, liberal, democratic society with a proud past and a bright future. 

We are a reasonable country and a decent people. 

Our story is one of progress, of great achievements and enduring values. 

Immigrants who have come here have integrated and contributed. 

They have helped write the latest chapter in our island story. 

They have done this without being required to give up their identity. 

You can be a practising Hindu and a proud Briton as I am.

Or a devout Muslim and a patriotic citizen as so many are.

Or a committed Jewish person and the heart of your local community…

…and all underpinned by the tolerance of our established, Christian church.

We are a country where we love our neighbours. 

And we are building Britain together. 

But I fear that our great achievement…

…in building the world’s most successful multi-ethnic, multi faith democracy…

…is being deliberately undermined. 

There are forces here at home trying to tear us apart. 

Since October 7th there have been those trying to take advantage of the very human angst that we all feel…

…about the terrible suffering that war brings to the innocent, to women and children…

…to advance a divisive, hateful ideological agenda.  

On too many occasions recently, our streets have been hijacked by small groups…

…who are hostile to our values and have no respect for our democratic traditions.

Membership of our society is contingent on some simple things…

…that you abide by the rule of law, and that change can only come through the peaceful, democratic process. 

Threats of violence and intimidation are alien to our way of doing things: they must be resisted at all times.

Nearly everyone in Britain supports these basic values but there are small and vocal hostile groups who do not. 

Islamist extremists and the far right feed off and embolden each other. 

They are equally desperate to pretend that their violence is somehow justified…

…when actually these groups are two sides of the same extremist coin. 

Neither group accept that change in our country can only come through the peaceful democratic process. 

Both loathe the pluralist, modern country we are. 

Both want to set Briton against Briton…

…to weaponise the evils of anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim hatred for their own ends. 

The faith of Islam, peacefully practised by millions of our fellow citizens…

…is emphatically not the same thing as the extremist political ideology of Islamism…

…which aims to separate Muslims from the rest of society. 

Islamist extremists and far rights groups are spreading a poison, that poison is extremism. 

It aims to drain us of our confidence in ourselves as a people, and in our shared future. 

They want us to doubt ourselves, to doubt each other, to doubt our country’s history and achievements. 

They want us to accept a moral equivalence between Britain and some of the most despicable regimes in the world. 

They want us to believe that our country, and the West more generally, is solely responsible for the world’s ills…

…and that we, along with our allies, are the problem. 

In short, they want to destroy our confidence and hope. 

We must not allow that to happen.

When these groups claim that Britain is and has been on the wrong side of history, we should reject it, and reject it again. 

No country is perfect, but I am enormously proud of the good that our country has done. 

Our place in history is defined by the sacrifices our people have made, 

…in the service of our own freedom and that of others. 

And when these groups tell children that they cannot – and will not – succeed because of who they are…

When they tell children that the system is rigged against them or that Britain is a racist country…

This is not only a lie, but a cynical attempt to crush young dreams, and turn impressionistic minds against their own society.  

I stand here as our country’s first non-white Prime Minister, leading the most diverse government in our country’s history…

…to tell people of all races, all faiths and all backgrounds…

…it is not the colour of your skin, the God you believe in or where you were born, that will determine your success…

…but just your own hard work and endeavour. 

We must be prepared to stand up for our shared values in all circumstances, no matter how difficult. 

And I respect that the police have a tough job in policing the protests we have seen and that they are operationally independent. 

But we must draw a line. 

Yes, you can march and protest with passion…

You can demand the protection of civilian life…

…but no, you cannot call for violent Jihad. 

There is no “context” in which it can be acceptable to beam antisemitic tropes onto Big Ben in the middle of a vote on Israel/Gaza. 

And there can be no cause you can use to justify the support of a proscribed terrorist group, like Hamas. 

Yes, you can freely criticise the actions of this government, or indeed any government: that is a fundamental democratic right. 

But no, you cannot use that as an excuse to call for the eradication of a State – or any kind of hatred or antisemitism. 

This week I have met with senior police officers and made clear it is the public’s expectation…

…that they will not merely manage these protests, but police them. 

And I say this to the police, we will back you when you take action. 

But if we are asking more of the police, we in government must also back up that call with action. 

To that end, this month the government will implement a new robust framework for how it deals with this issue. 

To ensure that we are dealing with the root causes of this problem…

…and that no extremist organisations or individuals are being lent legitimacy…

…by their actions and interactions with central government. 

You cannot be part of our civic life if your agenda is to tear it down. 

We will redouble our support for the Prevent programme to stop young minds being poisoned by extremism. 

We will demand that universities stop extremist activity on campus.  

We will also act to prevent people entering this country whose aim is to undermine its values. 

The Home Secretary has instructed that if those here on visas…

…choose to spew hate on protests or seek to intimidate people…

…we will remove their right to be here. 

And our Britain must not be a country in which we descend into polarised camps…

…with some communities living parallel lives. 

It is not enough to live side-by-side, we must live together…

…united by shared values and a shared commitment to this country.

And 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 from our common values of decency and respect.

I love this country. 

My family and I owe it so much. 

The time has now come for us all to stand together to combat the forces of division and beat this poison. 

We must face down the extremists who would tear us apart…

…there must be leadership, not pandering or appeasement. 

When they tell their lies, we will tell the truth. 

When they try and sap our confidence, we will redouble our efforts. 

And when they try and make us doubt each other…

…we will dig deeper for that extra ounce of compassion and empathy…

…that they want us to believe doesn’t exist, but that I know does. 

If we can do that, we can build on our great achievement in creating today’s Britain…

…a country of kind, decent, tolerant people. 

We can make this a country in which we all feel a renewed sense of pride. 

This is our home. 

So let us go forward together, confident in our values and confident in our future.

Please note: Political content has been redacted from this transcript.

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