Extinction Rebellion has staged a protest at the Cenotaph on Armistice Day, declaring that “climate change means war”.
Several protesters including a forces veteran gathered at the Cenotaph on Whitehall on Wednesday morning at 8am, three hours before the national two-minute silence of remembrance.
The group unfurled a banner reading, “Honour their sacrifice – climate change means war” and laid a poppy wreath on the memorial with the slogan “Act Now”.
The wreath was later removed.The move has been criticised by The Royal British Legion, which runs the Poppy Appeal, and Tobias Ellwood, a former defence minister.
Donald Bell, a 64-year-old veteran who protested on Wednesday morning, said: “I took action today knowing that I would be criticised.
“I knew that I would be accused of being disrespectful and hated by many for speaking out in this way. Remembrance Day is never an easy time for veterans and this was not an easy decision for me to make.
“But I served this country, I served the people of this country and the action I took today is about just that. Unchecked climate change means a return to a world at war. I cannot stand by and let that happen. It is my duty to act.”
Mr Bell said he served four tours for the British Army from 1971-1977, and was pictured wearing a green beret with a Royal Anglian Regiment cap badge.
Tobias Ellwood, the chair of Parliament’s Defence Select Committee and a veteran of the Royal Green Jackets, said the protesters risked turning the public from their cause.
“They will alienate the very people they want to persuade by choosing to target the Cenotaph on today of all days,” he said.
“While many will support their cause, their tactics deployed here could easily backfire, which is a shame, given it is something that all nations including Britain will turn their attention to with us hosting COP26 [the climate forum].”
“The importance of what the Cenotaph stands for is that pivotal and iconic representation of the sacrifice that has been given for the freedoms we enjoy today.”
Mr Ellwood warned the protest could spawn “copycat” protests at other memorials from other groups.
“There could be a danger that other less well-intentioned causes may follow suit to target this hallowed ground,” the MP said.
“The concern I would have is if they were seen to somehow get away with this, or have an enduring or lengthy presence there, we would then get copycat attempts for other causes to hijack this important symbol for Britain.”
Andrew Bowie, a Scottish Conservative MP, added: “They protest against David Attenborough. Today they hijacked the two minutes silence at the Cenotaph.
“Extinction Rebellion do great damage to the debate on climate change. They alienate sympathetic and moderate voices and do nothing to solve the issue they say they care about.”
A protest by Black Lives Matter that damaged the Cenotaph in June prompted ministers to consider a Desecration of War Memorials Bill that would make it easier to jail protesters for damaging memorials.
The Telegraph understands Wednesday’s protest was nor organised by Extinction Rebellion’s leadership, but by a sub-group of members.
A source said a “small group” planned and executed the stunt.
The Royal British Legion, which runs the Poppy Appeal in aid of veterans, said Armistice Day was “not for political protest”.
“War memorials and graves honour the memory of every member of the Armed Forces who has made the ultimate sacrifice and deserve to be treated with the utmost respect,” a spokeswoman said.
“The Armed Forces community, past and present, have made sacrifices in defence of the freedoms we have today, including the freedom of speech.
“Whilst we respect the right of others to express their opinions within the law, we believe the Poppy Appeal is a time for Remembrance, and not for political protest.”
The Metropolitan Police has been contacted for comment.