Tories pledge six-month prison sentences for climate activists blocking roads
Home secretary Priti Patel will use her Tory Party conference speech to warn that those who use “guerrilla tactics” to block highways could face unlimited fines as well as up to six months in jail.
The move follows days of protests by the Insulate Britain group, which has staged sit-down demonstrations on a series of key arteries around London, including on the M25, M1 and M4.
The activist group responded to the “threat” of tougher powers by saying they were not scared of going to prison – vowing to continue their disruptive protests on the roads.
“Unfortunately the fear of losing British society as we know it is much greater than the punishments being threatened by our government,” an Insulate Britain spokesperson told The Independent.
“We have a responsibility to the next generation to keep going until we get a meaningful statement from the government that we can trust,” the spokesperson added – urging Mr Johnson to “get on” with a plan for decarbonisation of the economy.
Civil liberties campaigners condemned the idea of prison sentences for any protesters. “Protest is not a gift from the state – it is a fundamental right,” Grey Collier, advocacy director at Liberty, told The Independent.
Collier added: “The policing bill is an attack on the rights of everyone who has a cause they believe in, from climate activists to grieving families looking for answers and justice.
“The government should be supporting such a core pillar of our democracy, not shutting it down.”
On Saturday the government obtained a fresh injunction banning the group from obstructing traffic and access to motorways and major A roads in and around the capital.
The new tougher powers set to be announced by Patel next week are expected to be included in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill currently going through parliament.
Police are also to be given the powers to stop and search activists for “lock-on” equipment used to prevent them from being moved.
Ministers argue that the current offence of obstructing the highway, which carries a maximum fine of £1,000, does not reflect the seriousness of the disruption such actions cause.
Ahead of her conference speech, Ms Patel said: “The right to protest is a fundamental principle of our democracy but we will not tolerate guerrilla tactics that obstruct people going about their day-to-day business.”
Mr Johnson said: “This government will always stand on the side of the law-abiding majority and ensure the toughest penalties possible for criminals who deliberately bring major roads to a standstill.”
The prime minister added: “We will give the police the powers they need to stop their reckless and selfish behaviour. The right to protest is sacrosanct – but there is no right to inflict chaos and misery on people trying to go about their lives.”
Tory chair Oliver Dowden used his conference speech to criticise Labour councillor Theresa Norton for joining a recent climate protest blocking roads.
“The last thing needed is arrogant Labour activists blocking access to homes, workplaces and hospitals,” he said. “Fortunately our new policing bill will curb these irresponsible antics.”
Extinction Rebellion activists blocked entrances to a private airport in Hampshire in protest against emissions from private jets on Saturday, using a stretch limousine to block gates at Farnborough airport.
“Extinction Rebellion is also demanding the government stops private flights now,” said a spokesperson. A spokesperson for Farnborough airport said it remained fully operational despite the protest.