Extinction Rebellion: Priti Patel says 'eco-crusaders turned criminals’ attacking our way of life

Home secretary claims environmental protesters are an ‘emerging threat’ and calls for police crackdown

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Correspondent
Tuesday 08 September 2020 19:28 BST
Priti Patel says Extinction Rebellion ‘criminals’ attack 'our' way of life

Priti Patel has called Extinction Rebellion “eco-crusaders turned criminals” and accused them of attacking Britain’s way of life with a recent protest.

Addressing a police conference, the home secretary hit out at the blocking of printing presses, adding: “I refuse point blank to allow that kind of anarchy on our streets and I’m right behind [the police] 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.”

Ms Patel called the group an “emerging threat” and accused them of launching a “shameful attack on our way of life, our economy and the livelihoods of the hard-working majority”.

She told police to “adapt to the threat that they pose and ensure that justice is served”, adding: “Police have a whole range of powers at their disposal and they should be used because it is right for the police to police against those who threaten our freedoms.”

Police and fire services at the protest outside Newsprinters printing works in Broxbourne, Hertfordshire.
Police and fire services at the protest outside Newsprinters printing works in Broxbourne, Hertfordshire. (PA)

Asked by The Independent why the government was singling the environmental group out when police were using the same laws and tactics deployed for all protests, Ms Patel said it was “undermining a functioning society”.

“These are not peaceful tactics, these are tactics that are deployed to cause maximum damage to society — the blocking of roads for example,” she added.“That is a threat, there is a real threat to our society but these are the types of tactics that we simply cannot allow to persist.”

A spokesperson for Extinction Rebellion said their actions were a “call for greater democracy, not an affront on it”.

“The action affected one edition of a selection of newspapers, all with powerful voices who are having no trouble at all getting their chosen angle on this across,” she added. 

“In the wake of Extinction Rebellion’s actions the government is attempting to push through anti-democratic and authoritarian policies to inhibit peaceful protest.”

Ms Patel stopped short of supporting a ban on demonstrations in light of rising coronavirus infections, but said “I don’t think we should be seeing demonstrations” during the pandemic.

On Monday, the government said powers to help police deal with disruptive protests were “under constant review” following Extinction Rebellion's printing press blockade targeting newspapers including The Sun, The Times, the Daily Mail, andThe Daily Telegraph.

Ms Patel called the demonstration “wrong” and a “shameful attack” on British society.

She called for police to use their full powers “against those who threaten our freedoms”, adding: “We will look at new legislation in this space, but before we come up with new police powers we have to effectively test the strength of current powers.”

Her speech to the Police Superintendents’ Association’s (PSA) annual conference came amid reports that the government could classify Extinction Rebellion as a criminal group.

Kit Malthouse, the policing minister, previously told MPs: ”The classification or otherwise of any group in this country depends upon their conduct.

“And whether Extinction Rebellion in its wider sense needs to think about perhaps that group within its number that is employing these extreme tactics and whether it is appropriate for them to be members of the organisation is for them.”

He said that 51 protesters were arrested and charged in Hertfordshire and 30 protesters arrested and charged in Merseyside over the printing press blockade, following hundreds of arrests during Extinction Rebellion’s recent  protests.

During the PSA conference on Monday, police leaders said demonstrations were adding pressure to forces as crime levels return to normal and coronavirus continues.

Martin Hewitt, chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, said he expected groups on both sides of the Brexit debate would be “wanting to make their voice heard” leading up to December.

He added: “We are going into an incredibly difficult time economically and … we can anticipate quite a bit of protest coming through.”

Mr Hewitt and other senior officers urged the government to protect police funding going forward, as the impact of coronavirus threatens some of its sources.

Chief superintendent Paul Griffiths, president of the PSA, had told Ms Patel that police cannot be left to suffer during the economic downturn caused by coronavirus , and said there is “nervousness” about the future.

“I will pull no punches when it comes yet again to getting what you need in this spending review,” the home secretary said. “That is a promise that I will keep.”

The Home Office said it had already given the “biggest funding boost for the policing system in a decade” and enabled the recruitment of 20,000 new officers, although police associations have highlighted that the government had not fully replaced what had been lost through a decade of cuts.

Ms Patel confirmed plans to create a police covenant aimed at boosting protection and support for officers, staff and their families.

She has met with the widow of PC Andrew Harper last week, as part of a campaign in his name for mandatory life sentences for killing emergency service workers.

Ms Patel said: “The police and the families that stand behind them deserve special recognition. Their bravery and sacrifices are what keep us and our loved ones safe.

“I will put the police covenant in law to ensure they will always have the support of the nation.”

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