By Connor Steel
FAREHAM MP Suella Braverman has unveiled new plans for a major crackdown on climate protesters in her current role of Home Secretary, last weekend pledging to stop demonstrators holding the public ‘to ransom’ following another recent wave of incidents across the country from multiple environmental campaign groups.
It comes as she prepares to detail her Public Order Bill to the House of Commons this week, that she states will give police forces stronger powers to take the more “proactive” approach when dealing with protests that threaten or cause “serious disruption or a serious adverse impact on public safety”; a tactic used by activists.
Recent high profile protests have seen mass disruption across Central London including one incident where emergency fire crews were unable to get through a crucial road junction in Knightsbridge. This act was called “indefensible” by the Home Secretary whilst there was protests during the Conservative Party Conference as the new Prime Minister’s address was interrupted briefly by large signs and prolonged chants in Birmingham.
Furthermore Just Stop Oil protesters have held fifteen days of action as they demand a halt to all new oil and gas licences / consents, with the Home Office statistics showing 350 people have been arrested to date. This includes two people after tomato soup was thrown at a famous Van Gogh artwork in the National Gallery and another twenty six who glued themselves to Shoreditch High Street during shopping hours through Saturday.
Since 2019 there have been widespread protests organised by Extinction Rebellion with some already jailed or due in court as a result. One infamous act held in September 2020 saw a delay in distribution of several national newspapers of fourteen hours after the group had blocked access routes to three printing facilities.
Taking a similar approach to former Home Secretary Priti Patel, the Fareham MP outlined her determinations to sort this growing issue as she told Conservative colleagues in Birmingham earlier in October that it is “not a human right to vandalise property”. And in media interviews published widely this weekend she doubled on this no-nonsense stance saying: “I will not bend to protestors attempting to hold the British public to ransom.”
She referred to recent incidents in concluding: “Preventing our emergency services from reaching those who desperately need them is indefensible, hideously selfish and in no way in the public’s interest. This serious & dangerous disruption, let alone the vandalism, is not freedom of expression, nor a human right. It must stop.”
If approved the Public Order Bill is reported to give secretaries of state in Government the option to apply for court injunctions where protests are causing and threatening “serious disruption or a serious adverse impact on public safety”; alongside a variety of stronger sentences for those found guilty of certain protest offences.
For example the offence of “locking-on” could see tough jail sentences of up to six months or unlimited fines for protesters found guilty, with this legislation applying to buildings, roads, objects and people. This type of protest has grown in volume in recent years and if fully approved by Parliament would be classed as illegal.
Officials are further proposing to create a new criminal offence aimed at those interfering with infrastructure; covering oil refineries, airports and railways. The offence will carry a sentence of up to 12 months in prison, whilst tunnelling under infrastructure to cause damage will see a penalty of up to three years imprisonment.
The Home Office has further promised to support police forces with the controversial issue of stop-&-search measures alongside new serious disruption prevention orders. The latter is aimed at targeting those who are repeatedly convicted of protest offences, including criminal damage verdicts and similar illegal acts in public.
Ms Braverman is urging colleagues to fully back the bill, currently at its early ‘policy stage’, as she said: “The police need strengthened and tougher powers to match the rise in self-defeating protest tactics, and that is what the Public Order Bill will do. It’s high time parliament got behind it and put the law-abiding majority first.”
But the Home Secretary will likely face opposition from those who feel that Government want to limit the right to protest for voters and therefore limit the option of change in the country. Many MPs point to the Suffragette movement of the early 20th Century that ensured women received a right to vote in all UK national elections.
And although the Government is likely to pass the bill due to their large Commons majority, it will then face a tough challenge within the House of Lords. Earlier this year similar proposals to clamp down on all noisy and disruptive protests were denied by peers in a major defeat; with the laws labelled as “oppressive” in debates.
Readers can read more about the public order bill here, whilst no date has been announced for the debates at the time of writing. This information is normally released by new Leader of the House Penny Mordaunt on Thursday morning with the full schedule available to see on https://whatson.parliament.uk/ (is updated daily).
PICTURED BY ALAMY: Fareham MP and Home Secretary Suella Braverman presents to busy Conservative Party Conference hall about her future plans; a speech lasting half an hour in Birmingham earlier this month.