Priti Patel to grab new powers to stamp out ‘mob rule’ of Just Stop Oil protests

Public Order Bill toughened to protect ‘key national infrastructure’ such as oil terminals

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Saturday 21 May 2022 22:30
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Just Stop Oil activists block M25 petrol station at rush hour

Priti Patel will grab new powers to stamp out the Just Stop Oil demonstrations when a controversial crackdown on protesting returns to the Commons on Monday.

The Public Order Bill has already sparked criticism for creating a new criminal offence of “locking on” and orders to ban people who have not committed a crime from demonstrating.

Police would be able to stop and search peaceful protesters without suspicion and check for items – such as glue, handcuffs or chains – they could use to attach themselves to objects or each other.

Now the home secretary will go further by extending planned Criminal Disruption Prevention Orders from stopping activists travelling to repeat protests to their presence at “key national infrastructure” such as oil terminals.

The target is the Just Stop Oil protests, blamed for petrol shortages across parts of England and part of a hoped-for global “spring uprising” over unchecked climate change.

The group is demanding that the UK government halt all new oil and gas licencing and production immediately – as Boris Johnson plans an expansion in the North Sea.

Ms Patel will accuse climate activists of trying to “make policy through mob rule” and insist she is “standing up for the law-abiding majority”.

“I will not stand by and let anti-social individuals keep causing misery and chaos for others,” she will tell MPs, at the bill’s second reading on Monday.

“The Public Order Bill will empower the police to take more proactive action to protect the rights of the public to go about their lives in peace.”

But the civil liberties group Liberty is accusing the home secretary of “yet another power grab from a government determined to shut down accountability”.

“Protest is a right, not a gift from the state, and measures like these are designed to stop ordinary people from having their voices heard,” said Sam Grant, Liberty’s head of policy.

“From restrictions on protest to scrapping the Human Rights Act, this is all part of the government’s continued attempts to rewrite the rules so only they can win.”

The measures are being brought forward for a second time, despite being thrown out by the House of Lords last year when they were branded “draconian and anti-democratic”.

Police fear the crackdown on protests could put them in danger and damage public confidence, revealing they have not sought the powers.

The bill would introduce:

  • Serious Disruption Prevention Orders – banning anybody from a protest who has attended more than two in the last five years, regardless of whether they have committed any crime
  • Tougher stop and search measures – despite a Home Office assessment warning they disproportionately affect ethnic minorities with a risk of “indirect discrimination”
  • Locking on offences – with a maximum penalty of six months’ imprisonment, an unlimited fine, or both

The new offence of “interference with key national infrastructure” would allow offenders to be jailed for up to 12 months.

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