Extinction Rebellion protesters block roads outside of Parliament
The Home Secretary aims to make it illegal for protesters to prevent institutions, ranging from Government to the news industry, from exercising their democratic duties. It follows Extinction Rebellion protesters halting the delivery of newspapers by blockading pressing facilities in September.
Ms Patel’s proposed legislation will also include restrictions on areas in which protesters are allowed to demonstrate, such as national infrastructure.
A Government source said to the Telegraph the move is not “about banning protests” and is intended to allow for minimal disruption.
They added: “It is ensuring that people can protest in a free and fair way without stopping people from going about their lives or blocking democratic functions from happening.
“Look at Extinction Rebellion where they shut down the whole of the city or prevented newspapers from publishing. People would not say that’s a lawful protest.”
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Sir Lindsay Hoyle, Commons Speaker, has backed Ms Patel’s proposed legislation over growing concerns about the abuse of MPs.
The issues of protests came to a head after September’s Extinction Rebellion protests blockaded major printing presses, which was met with outrage from MPs.
Ms Patel said at the time at a police conference: “I refuse point blank to allow that kind of anarchy on our streets and I’m right behind you as you bring the full might of the law down upon that selfish minority.
“The very criminals who disrupt our free society must be stopped and together we must all stand firm against the guerilla tactics of Extinction Rebellion.”
The proposed curb on protesting is expected to be included in an upcoming police powers bill, which is due in the New Year.
It is also expected to enact Conservative manifesto promises on a crackdown on illegal traveller sites, allowing police to more easily disperse them.
Government sources also told the Telegraph Sir Lindsay wants to make it a legal offence for activists to block Parliament’s gates, and has proposed “buffer zones” around Westminster Palace’s entrances.
While a final distance has not yet been agreed, it is believed this would prevent the public from gathering within 10 to 50 meters of Parliament.
Previously Ms Patel lashed out against protests during the UK’s second nationwide lockdown in November.
The Home Secretary banned demonstrations of more than two people during the month-long lockdown over fears protests “risks spreading the disease”.
A Home Office spokesman said at the time: “The right to peaceful protest is one of the cornerstone of our democracy. In these unprecedented circumstances, any gathering risks spreading the disease, leading to more deaths, so it is vital we all play our part in controlling the virus.
“People must follow the rules on meeting with others, which apply to all gatherings and therefore protests too. As they have done throughout the pandemic, the police and local authorities will engage, explain and encourage people to follow the rules before moving on to enforce the law.”
Ms Patel has been criticised for her curbs on protests during the lockdown, with Human rights barrister Adam Wagner calling it “worrying” on Twitter.
He added: “Obviously there is a balance to be struck between preventing the virus and basic right – but with the Government using unprecedented executive powers to impose restrictions, protest is hugely important.”
The Home Secretary has also been accused of inciting violence against Black Lives Matter protesters, after a report from the Network for Police Monitoring found the policing of the demonstrations was institutionally racist.
Stand Up to Racism co-convenor Weyman Bennett said after the reports release: “Even police chief constables have accused Priti Patel of ‘absolutely disgraceful’ interference in the BLM protests.
“The impact of her interference was to encourage violence against the demonstrations. The people that bore the brunt of it were just trying to call for basic human rights.”
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