Environmental campaign groups have hit out at the “draconian” protest crackdown bill announced in the Queen’s speech.
The new law appears to be targeted at groups such as Extinction Rebellion, Just Stop Oil and Insulate Britain who have used disruptive methods to draw attention to the climate crisis.
Announcing the bill, Priti Patel said: “As the Queen’s speech outlined, the public order bill backs the police to prevent antisocial protests from disrupting people’s lives.” The home secretary hailed the “new criminal offenses for ‘locking on’ and interfering with national infrastructure, and serious disruption prevention orders for reoffenders”.
The new criminalisation of “locking on” is aimed at protesters who handcuff or glue themselves to infrastructure, a favorite tactic of green protest groups. Insulate Britain demonstrators made headlines last year after glueing themselves to major roads, and Extinction Rebellion members have previously handcuffed and glued themselves to trains, causing disruption.
People who go equipped to lock themselves or others to buildings, roads or printing presses will also be committing an offence under the new bill. Extinction Rebellion members have previously targeted printing presses, delaying deliveries of national newspapers including the Telegraph, the Times and the Sun.
Many have pointed out that progressive gains such as women’s right to vote, legalisation of trade unions and the decriminalisation of same-sex relationships are among laws that would probably not have happened without the type of protest the government is due to make illegal.
Protester Gemma Rogers, 49, an NHS worker, founded the local campaign group Steve Baker Watch. She and other members are campaigning to ask their MP to leave the Global Warming Policy Foundation, a climate contrarian thinktank.
She told the Guardian: “The proposed new powers in the bill, similar to those recently rejected by the House of Lords, are unnecessary and undemocratic. The reason the environmental movement is making a fuss is that there is a massive issue we are not addressing. It’s just crazy to lock up those raising the alarm.”
James Miller, a co-founder of the green protest group Writers Rebel, added: “The draconian new public order bill will not stop us from protesting because the climate crisis isn’t going away – it’s only getting worse.
“Our government has chosen to favor the short-term profit of their backers in the fossil fuel industry and rightwing media over the long-term interests of the people. Obviously, these policies are going to be unpopular because they’re reckless, harmful and wrong and that’s why the government is criminalising our right to protest.”
Greenpeace said the government had the wrong priorities, and that it should not be criminalizing those who were highlighting the climate crisis.
Megan Randles, Greenpeace UK’s political campaigner, said: “The right to protest is one of the safety valves of our democracy. It allows ordinary people to protect their health, families and homes from harm when all other safeguards have failed. The government’s attempt to criminalise peaceful dissent is a threat to everyone’s right to stand up for what they believe in. Time and again, it’s an activism that has dragged a reluctant UK government into critical issues, whether it’s the climate crisis or women’s rights.
“Ministers who are so keen to talk about freedoms at every turn should rethink this attack on one of the most fundamental freedoms we have.”
A spokesperson for Insulate Britain said: “Whilst the government continues the process of criminalising ordinary people, the criminals in charge of our government are in the process of destroying this country. Granting 41 new oil and gas licenses is an act of war upon the poor of the global south and the people here in the UK. The new laws will change nothing. How many will be locked up until we realise there’s a problem society needs to address?”
Protesters hope that there is enough opposition in that the bill will not make it through, or at least will be watered down.
Already, some MPs have spoken against it. The Green MP Caroline Lucas vowed to work with other parties to defeat the legislation.
The SNP MP Peter Grant added: “Q – What do votes for women, the abolition of slavery, legalisation of trade unions and the decriminalisation of same sex relationships have in common? A – None of them would have happened if people hadn’t protested in a way that the Tories want to make illegal.”
The Labor MP Jon Trickett said: “The Tories are planning to further restrict the right to protest with a new public order bill. Rather than tackling injustice, they suppress dissent.”