Boris Johnson today laid a wreath at a war memorial in west London as he continued to face furious backlash over the banning of Remembrance Sunday church services for veterans.
The Government has faced mounting criticism after it emerged new Covid-19 rules on mass worship would stop veterans from attending Remembrance Sunday services inside churches.
Instead, those in attendance will be required to stand outside during events across the nation tomorrow – raising fears elderly war heroes could be exposed to pneumonia.
The Prime Minister was today seen laying a wreath at the Uxbridge War Memorial as he paid his respects to those who lost their lives fighting for Britain during the two World Wars.
Mr Johnson was joined by Ian Ritchie from the Hillingdon and District Royal British Legion for the visit, with the pair standing together for a moment of silence.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson (left), with Ian Ritchie from Hillingdon and District Royal British Legion, lay a wreath of remembrance at Uxbridge War Memorial in west London, ahead of Remembrance Sunday
The Government has faced mounting criticism after new Covid-19 rules on mass worship banned veterans from attending Remembrance Sunday services inside churches tomorrow
It comes as actor and politician Laurence Fox today slammed the move to keep veterans outside of churches as ‘ridiculous’, adding they ‘have more than enough nouse to make their own risk assessment and take precautions.’
He said: ‘They are veterans of war, for heavens sake, I think they have more than enough nouse to make their own risk assessment and take precautions.
‘Stop infantilising those much smarter than you and let them remember in church, if they wish.’
Former Prime Minister Theresa May also criticised the decision on Thursday.
She told the Commons: ‘My concern is that the Government today making it illegal to conduct an act of public worship, for the best of intentions, sets a precedent that could be misused for a Government in the future with the worst of intentions.
‘And it has unintended consequences. The Covid-secure Remembrance service in Worcester Cathedral is now going to be turned into a pre-recorded online service.
Instead, those in attendance will be required to stand outside during events across the nation – raising fears elderly war heroes could be exposed to pneumonia
Mr Johnson was joined by Ian Ritchie from Hillingdon and District Royal British Legion for the occasion, with the pair standing for a moment of silence during the visit
‘Surely those men and women who gave down their lives for our freedom deserve better than this?’
Former Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon added: ‘Veterans are perfectly capable of social distancing and wearing face masks for half an hour and I hope the Government will think again.
‘It seems ridiculous. We trusted veterans to put their lives on the line for the country but we cannot trust them to stand two metres apart in church.’
Most religious services are banned under winter lockdown restrictions which began on Thursday, with anyone caught attending facing a £200 fine.
The rule put a halt to Remembrance Sunday church services, with an exception made for a restricted guest list at Westminster Abbey on Armistice Day on November 11.
It comes as actor and politician Laurence Fox today slammed the move to keep veterans outside of churches as ‘ridiculous’, adding they ‘have more than enough nouse to make their own risk assessment and take precautions’
He said: ‘They are veterans of war, for heavens sake, I think they have more than enough nouse to make their own risk assessment and take precautions’
Under current guidance, outdoor events can still take place at a ‘public war memorial or Cenotaph’ in England provided numbers are kept to a minimum, social distancing is observed and they are kept short.
A heavily reduced ceremony at the Cenotaph will take place on Sunday.
The Royal British Legion has confirmed there will not be the annual March Past due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
On its website the charity said it recognised the decision was ‘deeply disappointing,’ adding it was taken following Government advice.
The Government has also ordered local councils to ‘discourage’ the public from attending Remembrance Sunday events.
‘Members of the public are legally permitted to stop and watch the event as spectators,’ guidance says.
‘But event organisers should take reasonable steps to discourage the public from attending events, and be mindful of the risk that such events pose, especially to veterans who are often elderly.’
The move to ban veterans from churches on Remembrance Sunday has been heavily criticised since the plan emerged last week, with the last survivor of the Battle of Britain saying he ‘feels sad’ about the rule.
Pictured: The Cenotaph surrounded by crowds after Remembrance Sunday service in 2013. Such crowds will not be possible this year due to coronavirus lockdown measures in place
Growing uproar from former senior members of the armed forces, and former defence secretary Michael Fallon, has also seen calls for an exemption from the rule so the day can be properly commemorated.
Lord West of Spithead, the former First Sea Lord, told The Telegraph: ‘If you look at the average size of a church there must be a way of letting veterans in with social distancing. It seems very silly to have them standing outside in the freezing cold.
‘This puts them more at risk. They will die of pneumonia rather than Covid.’
John ‘Paddy’ Hemingway, the 101-year-old last survivor of the Battle of Britain, is said to be gutted by the move.
His son Brian Hemingway said the veteran ‘feels sad’ people will not be able to come together on Sunday.
The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, as well as the Catholic Church yesterday backed calls for ‘sensible exceptions’ to be made to the rules on mass worship.
Lord Carey made an late plea for the Government to U-turn on its decision and to allow World War Two veterans to gather inside for memorial services, saying Sunday may be the last day for many people to pay their respects to fallen comrades.
‘Even at this late hour, the Government should make sensible exceptions to allow veterans, some of whom may not see another Remembrance Sunday, to attend a service in small numbers in a Covid-secure church,’ Carey said to the Telegraph.
The 132 Aviation Support Squadron selling poppies at Liverpool Street station, London
‘I’m not in favour of special pleading for church worship during this public health emergency, but surely we can find ways to honour those who have given so much to their country.’
Justin Welby, the current Archbishop of Canterbury, said he believed the ban on religious services ‘will probably change before long’.
He said that the Government is ‘listening very carefully’ to faith leaders who have written to Boris Johnson asking him to reverse the decision to bar services.
Welby insisted that churches are ‘the safest place you go to’, with people observing social distancing measures and wearing masks.
‘This is one of the things that holds people together. It gives them a real sense of purpose and changes the world. So, I think that’ll probably change before too long. The Government’s been very good, they’re listening very carefully.’
Other religious leaders have also spoken out about the Remembrance Sunday guidelines, noting that places of worship have been made safe for veterans.
How does England’s winter lockdown affect churchgoers and Remembrance Sunday services?
Under England’s latest lockdown, places of worship will close unless they are being used for funerals, individual prayer, formal childcare or other essential voluntary and public services such as support groups.
Exemptions will also be made for churches that are broadcasting acts of worship.
This means Remembrance Sunday services, which are traditionally part of communal worship, cannot go ahead as planned on November 8.
However, rather than being banned entirely the Government has set out a series of guidelines for local authorities and faith leaders hoping to hold the services.
According to the Government: ‘Local authorities in England and faith leaders can organise outdoor Remembrance Sunday events at a public war memorial or cenotaph, if you complete a Covid-19 risk assessment and take all reasonable measures to limit the risk of transmission of the virus.
‘Where necessary, you should engage with neighbouring businesses, transport operators and local transport authorities to assess any risks to the local area of increased visitors from other locations and apply additional mitigations if needed. ‘
These services should be ‘adjusted to ensure the event is as safe as possible.’
- Be outdoors, as transmission risks are significantly reduced;
- Be short and focussed on wreath laying, with a reduced march past or parade only if social distancing can be maintained;
- Take advantage of opportunities for wreath layers to represent wider groups
- Any small, military bands should observe social distancing. Buglers can perform outdoors at Remembrance Sunday events;
- Keep numbers to a minimum, focussing attendance on those wishing to lay wreaths;
- Take reasonable steps to minimise wider public viewing. The public can only attend the event with their own household or those in their support bubble, or individually with one other person from outside their household;
- Observe social distancing at all times.
According to the guidance, attendees should be ‘kept to a minimum’ and should only include:
- People attending as part of their work (such as local councillors, local faith leaders, the local MP)
- People attending in a voluntary capacity on behalf of a recognised organisation
- Members of the armed forces
- Veterans of the armed forces, and/or their representatives or carers
Members of the public are permitted to watch the event but should be discouraged from attending.