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Suella Braverman calls Just Stop Oil ‘extremists’ and says protests ‘out of control’

Home secretary tells police it is their ‘duty’ to take harsher action and accuses them of ‘institutional reluctance’

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Editor
Wednesday 09 November 2022 19:30 GMT
Just Stop Oil activist wraps bike lock around neck to chain himself to M25 gantry

Suella Braverman has labelled Just Stop Oil “extremists” and said their protests are “out of control” amid continued action on the M25.

Addressing a major police conference in London, the home secretary called for officers to take harsher action against activists and said it was their “duty to take a firmer line to safeguard public order”.

“Although most police officers do an excellent job, sadly, in recent months and years we have seen an erosion of confidence in the police to take action against the radicals, the road-blockers, the vandals, the militants and the extremists,” Ms Braverman said.

“We have also seen the police appear to lose confidence in themselves; in yourselves. In your authority, in your power. An institutional reluctance. This must change.”

The home secretary called the disruption caused by Just Stop Oil a “threat to our way of life” and said their activism was “not ‘freedom of expression’”.

“Scenes of members of the public taking the law into their own hands are a sign of a loss of confidence and I urge you all to step up to your public duties in policing protests,” she added. “The law-abiding patriotic majority is on your side.”

The Metropolitan Police commissioner said police were dealing with Just Stop Oil protests “as fast as we can”.

“There are limits to how you can do this at speed,” Sir Mark Rowley added. “We are turning up at those scenes very quickly.”

A Just Stop Oil protester being detained after they climbed a gantry on the M25, leading to the closure of part of the motorway on Monday (PA)

He said that demonstrators presented a new challenge on Wednesday by putting metal bicycle locks around their necks, making it dangerous to cut through them in order to remove people from gantries.

Speaking to journalists following her speech, Ms Braverman said that Just Stop Oil protests were seeing thousands of police hours “diverted to dealing with these extremists” instead of crime.

But asked whether she thought they should be treated as a security risk, she responded: “I think we’re very clearly in the realm of policing protests.

“We have a group of people who have a cause to propagate and they’re trying to come up with novel ideas to get attention … the events today just show this is out of control and we mustn’t tolerate it.”

The home secretary suggested that police officers could be given new guidance on how to handle protests, in a bid to increase the use of a package of controversial powers passed earlier this year.

Home Secretary Suella Braverman was addressing a major police conference (REUTERS)

In her speech to the National Police Chiefs’ Council and Association of Police (NPCC) and the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners (APCC) conference, she said: “Too often, a restricted interpretation of legislation is taken.

“A lack of certainty on the meaning of serious disruption to the life of the community and how the cumulative impact of repeated protests should be considered has led to a limited use of existing powers. I hope to see improved guidance on these matters so that public order commanders and officers can make full use of the powers available to them with confidence.”

A new package of laws in the Public Order Bill is going through parliament, including powers to ban people from protesting, criminalise “locking on” and stop and search protesters without suspicion.

The measures were thrown out by the House of Lords when they were attempted in a previous bill, and have been opposed by charities and human rights groups.

Jun Pang, the policy and campaigns officer at civil liberties organisation Liberty, accused the government of a “dangerous assault on protest rights”, adding: “With the ink on the Policing Act not yet dry, the government is trying to resurrect dangerous anti-protest proposals that the people and parliament have already loudly rejected just months ago.

“It will have a chilling effect on the right to protest, criminalising anyone attempting to make themselves heard. The arrests we’ve seen this week show that we are heading in the wrong direction. In a functioning democracy, everyone must be able to stand up to power.”

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