Hunt campaigners sparked fury last night by preparing to hijack Armistice Day for their latest demonstration. More than 1,000 pro-hunters are expected to descend on Whitehall this Thursday – November 11 – to lobby the weekly Cabinet meeting.
Ex-servicemen who are pro-hunting are also being called on to attend, and will be given a special place in the front of the protest.
Placards will be laid down and the protesters will be silent for the traditional two minutes of remembrance at 11am.
But immediately afterwards, they will resume their heckling of Ministers, as they have done every week since the infamous Parliament Square demonstration in September.
Organisers claim that the two World Wars were fought and won to preserve the freedom of life they feel they are now being denied.
It has prompted anti-hunt groups and some veterans’ groups to fear that Armistice Day will be ‘hijacked’ by the pro-hunters.
Hundreds of old soldiers will be in Whitehall for Remembrance Day to honour those who lost their lives fighting for their country with the traditional two minutes’ silence and wreath-laying ceremony.
The Countryside Alliance has told its supporters that this Thursday’s protest will be a special one, and encouraged even more people to pack into Whitehall.
On average, 500 or so campaigners including many from the West, stage a usually raucous protest opposite the entrance to Downing Street at the start and finish of the cabinet meeting every Thursday.
Hunt campaigners are openly equating the fight for freedom of the two World Wars with their battle to continue hunting, and claim organisers of the Cenotaph ceremony are backing their presence on the day.
Last night, they defended their decision to hold a Whitehall picket just yards away from the Cenotaph on the morning of the Armistice Day ceremony.
The Countryside Alliance told its supporters: “The Alliance has been liaising with the Western Front Association and the police to ensure that the solemnity of the occasion is in no way compromised.
“The Western Front Association are supportive of our picket taking place on the understanding that it does not affect their ceremony.”
After the cabinet meeting begins and the road is closed for the Cenotaph ceremony, hunt campaigners will put down their placards and join those commemorating Britain’s war dead. Then, as the ceremony ends, the Whitehall picket will re-start, berating Ministers emerging from the cabinet meeting.
The Alliance’s message added: “Ex-servicemen and women are especially encouraged to attend and have a designated area reserved for them immediately opposite Downing St.”
Hundreds are expected to attend from West hunts, and hunt campaigners, fresh from a bigger-than-ever opening day of the season on Saturday, said they had wrestled with their consciences before deciding to attend.
Jo Aldridge, from the West’s biggest hunt, the Beaufort, said: “We are very mindful of the fact that the Cenotaph ceremony is going on. We’re very aware of the sensitivity of the situation, and if our opponents wish to say we’re being insensitive then let them.
“Before the Armistice Day ceremony begins, we will stop our protest and none of us will be thinking about fox hunting.
“We will be remembering those people who died in the Wars – I’ve got relatives who died, and personally I’d like to be at the Cenotaph in any case. Our presence is not meant to destroy the service at all.
“Hunting is a freedom issue anyway. Our fathers fought for freedom and in a way we’re doing the same with our campaign. It just happens this week is Armistice Day, and the Cabinet meetings haven’t stopped for it, so neither will we.”
But veterans’ groups said they were uneasy with the protest on the same morning.
MARTIN Hornby, the chairman of the Somerset branch of the Western Front Association, said: “The hunters will be more than welcome at the Cenotaph as long as they are there to remember those who died.
“If they’re going there to make a political protest at something which has nothing to do with hunting, then we wouldn’t condone that at all.
It is not on if they want to hijack the event for their own political aims, they’ve got the right to protest, but not at the Cenotaph.”
And Derek Tilney, the chairman of the Malmesbury branch of the Royal British Legion, added: “The RBL is most anxious to mark the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. I just feel the hunters’ timing is very bad. There’s going to be lots of people there remembering old friends who died, and it isn’t quite right this time for them to be there. They maybe should give it a rest for a week.
“They may have a good case, and they’re entitled to protest, but their timing is wrong.”
And Mike Hobday, the chief executive of the League Against Cruel Sports, said: “There isn’t much that can be said about this – it just shows how desperate the Countryside Alliance is in their failing campaign. I’m sure it’s not really the right way to gain public support.”