Climate group criticise new legislation which will limit demonstrations.
A spokesman for Insulate Britain, the organisation behind roadblocks on motorways, says amendments to The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill (PCSC) will make any kind of public opposition very hard in the future.
Councillor Shane Collins, who represents the Green party in Mendip Somerset, called the changes “authoritarian” and questioned police rights.
The Bill will allow individuals to be stop and searched if authorities believe they could cause a public disturbance. The act of locking-on, when protestors chain or glue themselves to prevent removal, will also be illegal. A custodial sentence of 51 weeks could be issued to guilty offenders.
Cllr Collins said: “It’s gone too far, what will cyclists do if they are near a protest and carrying a D-lock, will they be arrested and sentenced too?”
(video Insulate Britain)
Protestors should not be jailed
A recent YOUGOV poll found that over half the people surveyed believe protestors should not be imprisoned.
SNP MP for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock, Allan Dorans, who took part in the committee stage of the Bill agrees a prison sentence is not the answer.
He said: “The police in England and Wales already have sufficient powers. Any new powers will limit the rights of people to peacefully protest.”
MP Dorans voted against the Bill and is hopeful House of Lords peers will reject it.
Insulate Britain unpopular with public
Insulate Britain’s tactics have not won wide spread support despite the lack of public appetite to jail them.
The prime minister described members of the organisation as “Crusties and illegitimate protestors who are trying to stop people from going about their day’s work”
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps called the campaigners, “Dangerous and counterproductive” adding that they had cost taxpayers £4.3 million in policing between September and November 2021.
His view was echoed on social media with some users expressing their frustration. In a comment on blocking ambulances, one tweet said activists were responsible for a woman being paralysed and at least two deaths. Another post said they should be yanked off the highway.
Middle class activists stopping working class people earning a living, stopping ambulances getting through roads and carers/nurses getting to patients or places of work.
Insulate Britain, you are a disgrace & you are an embarrassment.
— Adam Brooks (@EssexPR) October 4, 2021
Cllr Collins said it was incorrect ambulances had been stopped from accessing routes. He said: “This is a story the media like to share when in fact the majority of emergency vehicles have GPS and are able to navigate around blockades.”
Do protests work?
YOUGOV found most people believe extreme tactics do not work. Nearly three quarters of pollsters said it hindered the protestors’ cause and made no difference.
In response Cllr Collins said “We have people committed to getting arrested and going to prison. So this will continue.”
However, he conceded that their current actions had no impact on government policy and that they would have to try “something new” when they begin their Just Stop Oil campaign in the north sea later in the year.
Civil unrest on the rise
A report from Global Peace Index (GPI) says that concern over social issues and the environment in particular has led to groups like Insulate Britain taking extreme action.
Globally the number of protests has nearly doubled from 500 in 2011 to 900 in 2018. High profile demonstrations organised by Reclaim the Streets and Black Lives Matter have seen the UK become more violent in recent years.
A survey carried out by the Office for National Statistics shows that just over two-fifths of people surveyed were very worried about climate change. The survey also reveals that all age groups feel anxious with only the over 70s being less worried.
Protesting in Scotland COP26
In Scotland, thousands of people took part in marches and demonstrations as the city hosted Cop26.
The events, which resulted in only 70 arrests were overwhelming peaceful, due in part to the large police presence.
Overwhelming those who took part believe their presence makes a difference. Fatima Ibrahim, Co Executive Director of Green New Deal UK says it is vital people exercise their right to protest and force politicians to listen.
She argues those in power must be held accountable and taking to the streets is key.
Other environmentalists were equally convinced their participation would force change.
Dr. David Lundie from the University of Glasgow, says that Scottish people have a different opinion about demonstrating.
He said: “There seems to be more tolerance for disruptive protest in Scotland than England. Not only Insulate Britain but also school strikes, which Headteachers and the Scottish Government have mostly ignored”.
But he warned that communication had to be clear in order for campaigners to gain support.
He added: “People need to believe that protestors’ demands are reasonable otherwise disruption tends to be resented.”
Cllr Collins is adamant that the proposed legislation confirms the government is not interested in communicating.
He said: “The government knows what is coming down the line. In 15-20 years, climate change will no longer be possible. Millions will be forced to flee their homes and there will be food shortages. There’s going to be fighting in the bread isles of Morrisons.”
He believes this law is intended to make sure that when the worse happens, you won’t be legally able to complain about it.