New crackdown on Extinction Rebellion and Black Lives Matter needed due to ‘huge inconvenience’, minister says

Fresh requirements to notify the police and cut noise - while restricting demonstrations at Parliament

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Tuesday 09 March 2021 10:21
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<p>The justice secretary did not dispute that the move was ‘a direct response to the climate movement’   </p>

The justice secretary did not dispute that the move was ‘a direct response to the climate movement’

A new crackdown on protests by Extinction Rebellion and Black Lives Matter is needed because of the “huge inconvenience” caused, a minister says.

The Police, Crime, Security and Courts Bill will impose new requirements to notify the police and to cut noise, as well as restricting the ability to inconvenience Parliament.

It comes after Priti Patel sparked controversy by attacking the “dreadful” Black Lives Matter demonstrations that swept the country last summer – at one point suggesting she did not support protests at all.

Robert Buckland, the justice secretary, did not dispute that the legislation was “a direct response to the climate movement” and the challenge posed by Extinction Rebellion.

“We’ve got to think about the sometimes huge inconvenience caused to other people going about their lawful business,” he said.

The government is believed to be seeking to make it illegal for protesters to obstruct Parliament, the courts, or the distribution of newspapers and the work of broadcast media.

There could also be restrictions on where demonstrations can be staged including barring them from critical national infrastructure.

The Bill has been prompted by the tactics of Extinction Rebellion, which has brought central London to a standstill and, last September, blockaded major printing presses.

Ministers have backed away from exploring whether the organisation should be classed an organised crime group, focusing on its tactics instead.

It is expected to become a legal offence for activists to block the gates in and out of Parliament, with “buffer zones” to prevent gatherings within set distances.

A requirement for protestors to give seven days’ notice of demonstrations in Parliament Square – repealed a decade ago – could be reinstated.

And anyone damaging a memorial would face up to 10 years in prison, with the scrapping of a rule that limits jail terms to three months unless more than £5,000 worth of damage is caused.

Asked about the crackdown on Sky News, Mr Buckland was asked: “Two words spring instantly to mind – Extinction Rebellion. This is a direct response to the climate movement isn’t it?”

He said: “It’s a response to the fact that, while freedom of expression, the right to protest, are the heart of our civil liberties, we’ve got to think about the sometimes huge inconvenience caused to other people going about their lawful business.”

Insisting the legislation “gets the balance right”, Mr Buckland pointed to “the rights of other people who choose not to take part in these events – but who often face great inconvenience and sometimes worse as a result of what happens”.

Last month, the home secretary, asked about the Black Lives Matter demonstrations, said: “Those protests were dreadful.”

“We saw statues being brought down,” she said, adding: “Some councils making, quite frankly, a stance around statues and street names. There are other ways in which those discussions can took place.”

Ms Patel also said: “I don’t support protest,” before, after being interrupted, seeking to clarify that she was not criticising the right to protest itself, but rather the “dreadful” BLM marchers.

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