Words by Maisie Levitt, Online News Editor
The Home Secretary Priti Patel has caused controversy with civil liberties groups by announcing plans to ban protesters with a history of causing disruption from travelling.
Patel has indicated that known members of protests groups may be blocked from travelling in order to prevent them from attending potential disruptive demonstrations.
The measures are to be called criminal disruption prevention orders and would allow police to search activists for equipment such as handcuffs or chains, which may be used to secure protesters to motorways or fences. Patel’s plan would be added to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill that is currently in Parliament. It already includes a clampdown on protests that could be deemed “noisy”.
The announcement came after the recent protests by Extinction Rebellion and Insulate Britain, who shut down motorways and targeted printing presses, such as ones owned by Rupert Murdoch.
Insulate Britain’s protests lasted over three weeks and over 111 activists have been served with injunctions (court orders to stop further activity). The group wishes for all UK homes to be insulated by 2030 in order to help reduce carbon emissions. They are losing patience with the government, saying that while there is “talk, talk, talk”, they are yet to “walk the walk”.
Patel referred to the climate activists as “criminals” and “so called eco-warriors” – while having also claimed that the “Freedom to protest is a fundamental right our party will forever fight to uphold.” Prime Minister Boris Johnson described Insulate Britain activists as being “irresponsible crusties” who are doing major damage to the country’s economy. The demonstrations led to various confrontations between protesters and civilians due to the blocking of the Blackwall tunnel in London, the M1, the M25 and the M4 major roads.
Patel has stated that blockading routes as a form of protest will now lead to jail sentences of up to six months or an unlimited fine, whereas before the offence came with a £1000 fine. She also announced an expansion on drug tests done to arrested suspects.
The Home Secretary has been criticised for these measures by the human rights group Liberty, the civil liberties campaign group Big Brother Watch and Human Rights Watch. Sam Grant, head of policy and campaigns at Liberty, said that “protest is not a gift from the state – it is a fundamental right. The policing bill is an attack on the rights of everyone who has a cause they believe in”.
Insulate Britain has apologised for the disruption, but states that “the reality of our situation” must be confronted as “the collapse of the climate is happening around us.
We face economic chaos and the breakdown of law and order in a matter of years. We ask the prime minister to make the statement the country wants to hear – that our government will live up to its responsibilities to protect us, to defend law and order.”
The activism group has since stated on their website that “the Government should be in court, not Insulate Britain” in response to several protesters having to attend the Royal Courts of Justice on the 12th October in relation to injunctions.