Keir Starmer: protesters should respect those mourning Queen | Keir Starmer

People who wish to protest against the monarchy should respect those mourning the Queen and not ruin their opportunity to express their private thanks, Keir Starmer has said.

Amid controversy over a small number of protesters being removed by police or arrested, the Labour leader told BBC Breakfast the right to protest and disagree was a British tradition, but he called for it to be done “in the spirit of respect”.

“Respect the fact that hundreds of thousands of people do want to come forward and have that moment. Don’t ruin it for them,” he said.

“The word I’d use around that issue is respect,” he said. “I think if people have spent a long time waiting to come forward to have that moment as the coffin goes past or whatever it may be, I think respect that, because people have made a huge effort to come and have that private moment to say thank you to Queen Elizabeth II.”

Starmer’s plea for respect comes as the campaign group Republic wrote to police forces to raise concerns about arrests of anti-monarchy protesters in recent days and serve notice that it expects protests before the coronation to be allowed to go ahead peacefully.

The National Police Chiefs’ Council said it had issued advice to forces on Tuesday. A spokesperson said: “We know some people want to protest on a range of issues during this time of national mourning, and officers must balance these rights against those who wish to grieve and reflect. We have issued guidance to forces on how they should do this, in order to ensure a national consistency of approach.”

Civil liberties groups and MPs also expressed alarm, as activists gathered on Tuesday opposite the Edinburgh cathedral where the Queen’s coffin was lying at rest, holding blank sheets of paper, a blank banner and saying they were standing up for their right to protest.

Scotland Yard was prompted on Monday night to issue a statement saying it had been “making it clear to officers that the public absolutely have a right to protest” after a barrister and activist tweeted footage of himself being threatened with arrest in Westminster’s Parliament Square if he held up a notice saying: “Not my king.”

Alongside the protests, hundreds of thousands of people are expected to queue to see the Queen’s coffin lying in state in Westminster Hall from Wednesday evening until her funeral on Monday.

Starmer revealed that he would be part of the reception gathering when the Queen’s coffin arrived in Westminster Hall, and that he would later return to pay his respects privately accompanied by his family.

He told BBC Breakfast: “Today I’ll be there as part of the reception committee to receive the coffin.

“Then later on this evening in a private capacity, because my wife and our children … they want to come in, and as a family we will then pay our own personal respects to a remarkable sovereign.”

He also spoke of how the country’s response to the Queen’s death had been “very moving”.

“It’s a very human emotion, I think, where people just want to come, have that private moment where they say thank you to a remarkable sovereign,” Starmer said.

“I think it’s been very moving across the whole country. It’s been quite an incredible moment where so many people have come together.”

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