Police and judges must put an end to the country’s growing wave of chaotic eco-protests, MPs said last night.
Activists have already disrupted the World Snooker Championship and the Grand National and yesterday threatened Sunday’s London Marathon. Ring leaders said they would flood the capital with 30,000 supporters ahead of the hugely popular race.
Rishi Sunak vowed last night to introduce stricter laws to prevent protesters from ruining ‘major British sporting events’ with their ‘selfish and reckless behaviour’.
However, there was increasing frustration among conservative politicians who demanded drastic and immediate action.
“If there is even the slightest bit of trouble with these eco-idiots, they should be immediately rounded up, detained and then charged,” said party deputy leader Lee Anderson.
A Just Stop Oil protester jumped on the table and covered it in orange powder during the World Snooker Championship on April 17, 2023
Police clear a protester before the start of the Grand National horse race at Aintree Racecourse on April 15
Activists have already disrupted the World Snooker Championship and Grand National and yesterday threatened Sunday’s London Marathon (pictured in 2019)
Former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith added: “It’s very simple. The law is there, they should arrest them.
Their right to protest is being wiped out by the aggressive way they are destroying the rights of everyone else.
“What the government, police and judiciary have to do is take strict action to ensure that they understand the consequences of their actions.”
And Gareth Johnson, Conservative MP for Dartford, said: ‘It is outrageous that these groups are literally blackmailing us to demand that we all adopt their agenda. If everyone behaved like this, we would have total anarchy.’
Extinction Rebellion, which declared in January to move away from disruptive tactics, claimed yesterday that it could be “forced to shut down” if ministers did not agree to their demands to end state aid for fossil fuels.
The eco fanatic threw orange powder paint on the table, interrupting play on Monday night
The balls and one end of the table were covered in the orange paint the protester threw
Security dragged him off the table and he was reportedly later arrested, according to Just Stop Oil
It leads a coalition of more than 200 groups, including Greenpeace, which will descend on London for four days from Friday for climate protests.
It revealed yesterday that it will host an event on Sunday around the “last stretch” of the marathon, where the 50,000 runners will complete the 26.2-mile race, many of which will raise money for charities.
Spokesman Marijn van de Geer emphasized that the activists were not intended to harass people directly, but admitted that the race could suffer “logistical disruption”.
Race director Hugh Brasher said XR had ‘assured us that they do not want to disrupt the TCS London Marathon’ but added: ‘We are working closely with the Metropolitan Police and other stakeholders on the safety and security of the event.’
Eco-group Just Stop Oil, which was behind Monday’s snooker stunt at the Crucible in Sheffield, declined to rule out disrupting the marathon more directly.
Extinction Rebellion activists block Lambeth Bridge in central London in April 2022
Dozens of eco-fanatical groups have threatened to stage their stunts in ‘new and inventive ways’ unless the government enters talks on fossil fuels (photo: Extinction Rebellion activists demonstrate at Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park, central London, last April)
Extinction Rebellion protesters were removed by South Wales Police from Barclays in Cardiff, South Wales last November
Police largely succeeded in preventing an attempt by Animal Rising protesters to raid the Grand National on Saturday after an undercover reporter from the Mail on Sunday revealed their plans. However, the race in Liverpool was postponed for 15 minutes and 118 people were arrested.
Commenting on the protests, Mr Sunak said: “People who are disrupting the lives of decent, law-abiding people and trying to ruin major British sporting events for which many have worked hard and saved should be ashamed of their selfish and reckless behaviour.
“Last year the government introduced new laws to clamp down on this appalling behaviour, but it is clear that more is needed. That is why we are continuing our Public Order Act to create a series of new criminal offenses against these people.”
A government amendment to the bill published in January would have broadened the definition of ‘serious disturbance’, allowing police to intervene earlier.
But it was overturned the following month by opposition colleagues by 254 votes to 240 in the House of Lords.
A government source said last night: “Labor needs to get behind our law on public order so we can give the police the powers they need.” But a Labor source replied: ‘Once again the Conservatives will blame everyone but themselves for the chaos under their wing.
“Labour is clear there is no justification for dangerous and disruptive protests that endanger lives.”
Eco protests Q&A
Why can’t the police act preventively?
Because there is a right to peaceful protest, chiefs of police are reluctant to appear heavy-handed. The police have no authority to arrest protesters who have not yet committed a crime. However, the law on public order — which is currently in its final stages of parliament — will create an order to prevent serious disturbances called “Asbos for scabs.”
A court may be asked to impose civil order on an activist, placing them under various restrictions. If there is evidence that the activist is planning further protests, they could face charges and face up to 51 weeks in prison. SDPOs are effectively designed as pre-emptive strikes against known troublemakers, but are not yet available for use.
Can activists be imprisoned as soon as a protest starts?
Activists are treated individually under the law, and the crimes for which each can be arrested are relatively minor and in many cases do not carry a custodial sentence. This means that – even if they are charged by the police – protesters will not be taken into custody. In more serious cases, some juries have been reluctant to convict environmental protesters.
What do ministers do?
The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act passed last year increased the maximum sentence for ‘willfully obstructing a highway’ to 51 weeks in prison.
The law also increased the police’s powers to impose conditions on demonstrations, including on the grounds of noise pollution. However, a series of other proposals met opposition in parliament and had to be withdrawn. Ministers are now about to include those measures in the code under a new law on public order.
What happens now?
When the law on public order receives royal assent, it will create the disruption warrants described above and hand over a range of powers to the police. Criminal offenses will be committed to address ‘lockdown’ – where protesters tie themselves to infrastructure such as road portals. It will become a crime to interfere with “important national infrastructure,” including roads, railways, airports and newspaper printing presses. The police will also be given more powers to stop and search.