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Campaigners insist draconian limits on right to protest will be resisted

PLANS for even more draconian limits on people’s right to protest — including outside Parliament — will be resisted, campaigners insisted today.

Government “violence adviser” Baron Walney, who was Labour MP John Woodcock before his elevation, has recommended that “threatening” protests outside Parliament, MPs’ offices and council buildings be banned and dispersed by police.

The clampdown adds to existing new limits on protests including for being “too noisy” or causing inconvenience.

The Stop the War Coalition pledged to mobilise against any new laws or regulations banning protests outside Parliament, and humanitarian campaign group Liberty condemned the proposals as “knee-jerk and deeply concerning.”

The latest proposals follow more than four months of peaceful mobilisations of hundreds of thousands of people in Britain demanding a ceasefire in Israel’s brutal attack on the people of Gaza where almost 30,000 have died, many of them children.

Peaceful protests have been condemned by reactionary politicians and the media as “hate marches” and calls for Palestinians to have freedom “from the river to the sea” have been dubbed “anti-semitic.”

Calling for even stricter controls Lord Walney, government adviser on political violence and disruption, said the “aggressive intimidation of MPs” by “mobs” was being “mistaken” for an “expression of democracy.”

Lord Walney, who is a cross-bench peer, said: “And I think we ought to be looking at those sites that are crucial to the functioning of democracy on a national or local level, like MPs’ offices, like local council chambers, like Parliament itself.

“(There should be) an easier and a faster process that, where those areas are being encircled by the kind of angry aggressive protests that have that implied sense of threat, as we are seeing, to give the police the ability to disperse them more quickly, which is clearly not happening at the moment.”

Stop the War Coalition said it was committed to “campaigning energetically against” the move.

“There is a long tradition in this country of freedom of protest and expression which must be protected,” the group said.

The group said that “equating the right to protest with intimidation is completely spurious.

“The recent cycle of protests calling for a ceasefire have seen record numbers of people protest.

“Despite bizarre attempts to demonise these huge marches for peace and an end to mass killing as threatening ‘hate marches,’ they have been entirely peaceful with less arrests per person than at major music festivals. 

“Calls to limit the right to protest from centres of decision-making are an attempt to insulate politicians from public opinion.

“As such, they are an attack on democracy, not a defence of it.” 

Sam Grant, advocacy director at human rights campaign group Liberty, said: “When people care deeply about an issue, it’s natural for them to make their voices heard at the place where decisions are made.

“For centuries, protesting outside Parliament has been how people have campaigned for positive change in society, from the right to vote to equal marriage.

“The idea that we should ban protests outside Parliament is knee-jerk and deeply concerning. It will only make it harder for all of us to stand up for what we believe in.

“These suggestions must be seen in the context of years of oppressive anti-protest measures, which allow protests to be shut down for reasons ranging from if they are too ‘noisy’ to if they cause anything more than a ‘more than minor’ disturbance.

“We’ve already seen a tightening on how people protest outside Parliament through the Policing Act 2022, and these plans could extend that much further.”

Labour MPs including Richard Burgon and Zarah Sultana condemned the plans.

Mr Burgon said he was “deeply concerned” by any moves to restrict peaceful protests outside Parliament and other democratic spaces.

“This appears to be an attempt to criminalise the kind of protests that have seen hundreds of thousands of people protesting peacefully against the horrors that we are witnessing day-after-day in Gaza,” he said.

“There has already been an alarming authoritarian drift under this government.

“It has repeatedly undermined hard-won democratic freedoms including the right to strike, the right to peacefully protest and the right to vote (through its vote-rigging Voter ID measures.

“The curtailing of key democratic rights under this government is an unacceptable political response to the fact that its policies have become ever more unpopular.”

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