Riot police moved into Westminster this afternoon after officers were attacked by anti-vaccination protesters as traffic was brought to a standstill amid violent scenes in front of the Houses of Parliament.
Eleven people were arrested as thousands of maskless demonstrators chanted ‘shame on police’ and ‘arrest Boris Johnson’ in the 86F (30C) heat, with others urging officers to remove their masks, shouting: ‘Take it off, take it off.’
Dramatic video footage showed punches were thrown as bottles hurtled towards police on Freedom Day as Covid-19 restrictions were eased across England despite the Government still urging caution.
Anti-lockdown campaigner and actor Laurence Fox joined in with the protest this afternoon, saying: ‘It’ll be a hard job shifting this lot, the coppers are going to have – be interesting to see how they deal with it.’
He added: ‘It seems that a small number of people don’t sense that it’s Freedom Day.’ Fox left soon after and was seen at home rolling a cigarette, saying he did not understand what was at the heart of the ‘disorganised’ protest.
The demonstrators, who are beginning three days of each, moved from Parliament Square onto the road and up to the gates of the Palace of Westminster, blocking the road as officers urged them to move out of the way.
Among the protesters was Piers Corbyn, the brother of former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who has been a regular feature at anti-lockdown demonstrations since the pandemic began 16 months ago.
Police in riot gear hold back protesters trying to reach Whitehall from Parliament Square in Central London this afternoon
Anti-vaccination protesters clash with police during a demonstration in Westminster this afternoon
Police and anti-vaccination protesters clash during a demonstration in Parliament Square this afternoon
Police officers were attacked by anti-vaccination protesters this afternoon as they tried to hold them back
A woman is led away by police as anti-vaccination protesters hold a demonstration in Parliament Square today
A demonstrator is handled by police during an anti-lockdown protest in Parliament Square this afternoon
Anti-vaccination protesters gather at Parliament Square in Westminster this afternoon
Piers Corbyn, the brother of former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, with anti-vaccination protesters in London today
A demonstrator is taken away by police during the anti-vaccination protest at Parliament Square this afternoon
Police and anti-vaccination protesters during a demonstration in Parliament Square this afternoon
Anti-vaccination protesters hold a demonstration in Parliament Square this afternoon
One police officer was seen to put a lock on a gate at the entrance to Parliament while those outside held signs with anti-vaccination and anti-police messages.
Scotland Yard said 11 people had been arrested. The force tweeted: ‘A number of officers continue to respond to a demonstration in Parliament Square, Westminster. Eleven people have been arrested for a variety of offences.
‘Our policing operation continues, sadly officers have been met with hostility while engaging with crowds.’
Earlier, the force had said: ‘We are responding to a demonstration in Parliament Square this afternoon. A group have blocked the road which is causing traffic disruption.
‘Officers are on scene, speaking with those taking part in the protest and looking to ease congestion as soon as possible.’
Protesters confront a police line and shout towards the Houses of Parliament this afternoon
Video footage showed bottles hurtling towards officers in Westminster this afternoon
A protester shouts and holds up signs with a boy at Parliament Square during the protest this afternoon
Protesters blocking the roads shout slogans towards the Houses of Parliament from Parliament Square today
Anti-vaccination protesters hold a demonstration in Parliament Square in Westminster this morning
Anti-vaccination protesters sit in the road as they hold a demonstration in Parliament Square this afternoon
Police were seen urging the demonstrators to move out of the road in 84F (29C) heat today
Anti-vaccination protesters hold a demonstration in Parliament Square today as they hold up placards
Protesters confront police outside the Houses of Parliament during the demonstration today
It comes as Boris Johnson appealed to people to exercise their new freedoms with caution as most mandatory lockdown restrictions in England are finally lifted.
Social-distancing rules which, in one form or another, have governed people’s lives for over a year finally ended this morning at one minute past midnight.
Face masks are no longer mandatory in shops and on public transport, limits on gathering have gone and the work from home guidance has ended.
Nightclubs, theatres and restaurants can fully reopen, while pubs are no longer restricted to table service only.
An activist gets into a tussle with police during the anti-vaccination demonstration today
The demonstrators stage a protest at Parliament Square in Westminster this afternoon
Protesters shout towards the Houses of Parliament during the demonstration in London today
Protesters confront a police line at the Houses of Parliament during today’s demonstration
A demonstrator holds a sign up during the protest in Parliament Square this morning
A protester wearing a Matt Hancock mask calls for the former health secretary to be arrested
Activists hold signs with anti-vaccination and anti-police messages in Westminster today
A woman walks through Parliament Square where the demonstration is happening today
Demonstrators gather during the anti-vaccination protest at Parliament Square in London this afternoon
But with Covid-19 cases continuing to soar and renewed warnings about the pressure on the NHS, there was no mood of celebration in Government.
Mr Johnson is spending so-called ‘freedom day’ self-isolating at his official country residence at Chequers after being ‘pinged’ by NHS Test and Trace.
This follows a contact with Health Secretary Sajid Javid, who subsequently tested positive for the virus on Saturday.
Meanwhile businesses have warned of shortages on the shelves as the number of people off work after being pinged by the NHS Covid app continues to rise.