Police have banned Extinction Rebellion protests from continuing anywhere in London, in a move which has been condemned by politicians and legal experts as a “worrying attack on basic civil liberties”.
Scotland Yard warned activists they faced arrest and prosecution unless they halted the peaceful climate change action by 9pm on Monday, in a change of police tactic that followed demonstrations targeting City workers in the capital’s financial district.
Officers began clearing XR’s camp from Trafalgar Square minutes after issuing a revised section 14 order on the eighth consecutive day of protests.
The Metropolitan Police order – which lawyers suggested may be unlawful - said “any assembly linked to the Extinction Rebellion ‘Autumn Uprising’… must now cease their protests within London”.
Some activists glued themselves to tents or the pavement as police moved into the square, where the protest had previously been permitted, while others were cut out of locks after fastening themselves together. Several were arrested, including Green Party MEP Ellie Chowns.
Ms Chowns said: “This is intolerable. There has been no justification given. The protesters have been peaceful. There is no justification for this curtailment of the democratic right to protest for the future of our children.”
XR said it would “let Trafalgar Square go tonight” but accused Scotland Yard of “backtracking on promises” to permit peaceful demonstrations.
“Today, an unprecedented, political, decision has been taken to shut down peaceful protest calling out the government for inaction in the face of crisis,” said the movement’s London branch.
It added: “This is an emergency, and an outrage. The police must respect the law. This is a democracy.”
Green Party MP Caroline Lucas condemned the ban as a “huge over-reach of police power”, while human rights group Liberty said it was “a grossly disproportionate move by the Met and an assault on the right to protest”. Liberty’s advocacy and policy manager, Gracie Bradley, added: “Their heavy-handed use of this power sets a dangerous precedent.”
Laurence Taylor, deputy assistant commissioner of the Met Police, said the order had been imposed conditions “due to the continued breaches of the section 14 condition previously implemented, and ongoing serious disruption to the community”.
“We have made significant progress in managing Extinction Rebellion’s activity at sites across central London over this past week,” he added. “Officers have begun the process of clearing Trafalgar Square and getting things back to normal.”
Mr Taylor insisted the order “does not mean people are banned from protesting in London”, adding: “If Extinction Rebellion, or any other group, come to us with a proposal for lawful protests then of course we will discuss that with them.”
But Dianne Abbott, Labour’s shadow home secretary, said the order was “wrong and completely contrary to Britain’s long-held traditions of policing by consent, freedom of speech, and the right to protest”.
Shadow crime and policing minister Louise Haigh also spoke out against the ban, which she called “a grotesque overreaction and extremely worrying attack on basic civil liberties”.
Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, said he was “seeking further information from senior officers” about why they deemed the section 14 necessary.
Legal experts expressed surprise at the ban, which they said could potentially be challenged in court.
Barrister Jo Maugham said: "We believe the section 14 order is invalid - that it amounts to a huge overreach of the statutory power - and likely reflects the enormous political pressure the Met is under.
Human rights lawyer Adam Wagner said the ban seemed "extremely heavy handed, while the Network for Police Monitoring (Netpol) said the order was “draconian”.
"As things stand, five XR protesters standing on the pavement outside my house would be breaking the law. As would school children with XR banners in a park," Mr Wagner said.
Pam Williams, 71, a demonstrator who glued herself to Trafalgar Square as police moved in, said: “Everyone on the site, despite being the only area of London that was free of the Section 14, was told at about 8.30pm that they had to leave by 9pm or they would be arrested. I just feel like that’s very short notice.
“I feel possibly that they’ve been approached by people we’ve upset today, maybe the finance sector or the banking sector.”
Other XR activists also suggested the City protest may have been the "final straw" which triggered the section 14. One said: "Maybe we ruffled a few big feathers."
Scotland Yard issued the revised order at the end of a day in which hundreds of activists targeted the UK’s financial hub in the City of London. Protesters blocked traffic outside the Bank of England and glued themselves to the offices of companies they said were “bankrolling the environmental crisis”.
Police said more than 90 people were arrested after “causing further disruption to people and businesses in London’s financial district”.
Among those detained was 77-year-old rabbi Jeffrey Newman, of Finchley Reform Synagogue, who had been praying in the road. He said: “We have to work alongside those who are absolutely dedicated to trying to save life.”
More than 1,440 people have been arrested since XR began the latest round of protests began in London last week. The group said its “international rebellion continues” despite the new police order.
Activists had already defied the London ban by Tuesday morning, launching a new protest at the Department for Transport in Westminster.
XR’s co-founder, Gail Bradbrook, was filmed climbing the entrance to the building while other demonstrators glued themselves the ground nearby.
Protesters were also planning to block roads outside the headquarters of MI5 on Tuesday.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies