More than 600 arrested during protests as ‘government considers crackdown’ on Extinction Rebellion

Boris Johnson condemns blockades outside two newspaper printing plants as ‘completely unacceptable’

Samuel Lovett
Sunday 06 September 2020 08:36 BST
Arrests made as police disperse Extinction Rebellion protesters in Trafalgar Square

More than 600 people have been arrested during the course of the recent Extinction Rebellion protests in London, with the government said to be considering new measures that could curb the ability of the group to cause disruption to “critical national infrastructure”.

In a series of daily actions, environmental protesters marched on Parliament Square, blocked roads, staged sit-ins and glued themselves to the ground - after months of inactivity due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Activists also staged a blockade outside two newspaper printing plants on Friday night, preventing the overnight deliveries of The Sun, the Daily Telegraph, the Daily Mail and The Times.

Prime minister Boris Johnson condemned the demonstration as “completely unacceptable”, while home secretary Priti Patel said it was was “an attack on our free press, society and democracy”. Other ministers described the activists as “idiotic” and “an intolerant minority”.

The government is now set to crack down on the demonstrators, according to reports, with Whitehall officials asked to re-examine how the group is classified under law.

The Sunday Times claims that the Johnson administration is considering a new “subversion power” that would help protect “critical national infrastructure” which is regularly targeted by Extinction Rebellion, including printing plants.

A government source told the newspaper: “It would be illegal to stop MPs going to vote or judges getting to court and it would also protect a free press.”

In response to the recent protests, Metropolitan Police imposed conditions on where the demonstrations could take place, while protesters were warned they risked a large fine if they failed to comply with coronavirus rules banning gatherings of more than 30 people.

Scotland Yard said on Saturday that 20 people had been reported for consideration of a £10,000 Fixed Penalty Notice (FPN) for holding regulation-breaching gatherings representing a range of different causes.

Police said the FPN reports related to demonstrations called "Resist the Government", "Move One Million", "The Ivory Coast Protest", "Citizens' Assembly Extinction Rebellion" and "The Lightship Greta procession".

One penalty report relates to an anti-Government demonstration which took place in Trafalgar Square on August 30, the Met said.

Commander Kyle Gordon, Gold Commander for the weekend's policing operation, said protests had caused "serious disruption to local communities" in the past week.

He added: "Throughout this period we have become increasingly concerned the organisers of these events have not always taken all reasonable measures to limit the risk of transmission of coronavirus, thereby posing a risk, not only to those involved, but the wider public and communities of London.

"We remain in the middle of a pandemic and we all need to play our part in keeping each other and our communities safe."

He said officers sought to enforce coronavirus legislation "as a last resort" and had proactively told event organisers of their "public health risk".

Mr Gordon added: "I would appeal to anyone planning on organising a gathering to consider your responsibilities under the regulations, and to do all you can to help keep our communities safe."

On Saturday afternoon, an XR "Citizens Assemble!" gathering was dispersed by police in Trafalgar Square.

During the peaceful protest outside the National Gallery, activists sat on the ground and listened to speeches while surrounded by a large police presence. Officers asked the group to move on, with most dispersing by around 2.30pm.

Some that refused to leave the area were carried or led away by police, including one man in handcuffs.

Officers asked the group to move on, with most dispersing by around 2.30pm.Some that refused to leave the area were carried or led away by police, including one man in handcuffs.

Activists had chained themselves to bamboo structures and used vans and a boat to obstruct the roads to the two printing factories.

XR apologised to newsagents for the disruption, which left shelves empty in some parts of the country, but claimed “the right wing media is a barrier to the truth”.

The group also called on Rupert Murdoch, the owner of The Sun and The Times, to ”stop suppressing the truth about the climate crisis and profiting from the division your papers create”.

The Federation of Independent Retailers (NFRN) said the protests had hit home delivery operations, including for the “elderly and vulnerable”, and that members were having to deal with “angry customers”.

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