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DRACONIAN plans to crack down on “guerilla” protests announced in today’s Queen’s Speech have met a furious response from left MPs and activists.
The Tory proposals target groups such as Extinction Rebellion, Just Stop Oil and Insulate Britain, who have used non-violent disruptive methods to draw attention to the climate emergency.
Home Secretary Priti Patel said the new “Public Order Bill backs the police to prevent anti-social protests from disrupting people’s lives.”
But the Greens’ Caroline Lucas savaged it as a “public oppression Bill.”
The new criminalisation of “locking on” is aimed at protesters who handcuff or glue themselves to infrastructure — a successful tactic of green protest groups.
Insulate Britain demonstrators made headlines last year after glueing themselves to major roads, while Extinction Rebellion activists have previously handcuffed and glued themselves to trains.
A spokesperson for Insulate Britain was dismissive of the proposals, saying: “The new laws will change nothing.
“How many will be locked up until we realise there’s a problem society needs to address?”
Sam Grant, head of policy and campaigns at Liberty, said: “These rehashed measures to crack down on protest in today’s Queen’s Speech are yet another power grab from a government determined to shut down accountability.
“This is all part of the government’s continued attempts to rewrite the rules so only they can win, and prevent ordinary people from having their say.”
Sacha Deshmukh, Amnesty International UK chief, said: “It’s frightening to see the Home Secretary demonising people who are simply exercising their right to peaceful protest.
“These authoritarian provisions, recently removed by the Lords from the Policing Bill, are similar to repressive policies in countries the UK regularly criticises, including Russia, [Chinese special administrative zone] Hong Kong and Belarus.”
Network for Police Monitoring campaigns co-ordinator Kevin Blowe warned that the plans will lead to the “relentless harassment” of protesters by police.
And Peace Pledge Union spokesman Symon Hill said the proposals from the Tories were “another alarming assault on the right to peaceful protest.”
Megan Randles, Greenpeace UK’s political campaigner, said: “The government’s attempt to criminalise peaceful dissent is a threat to everyone’s right to stand up for what they believe in.”
Opposition MPs also slammed the latest authoritarian move by the Tories.
Labour’s Bell Ribeiro-Addy said: “Instead of taking action to address injustices like racism and climate breakdown, they want to stop people sounding the alarm.”
And Ms Lucas said opposition parties would work together to see it defeated.
“Our right to peaceful protest should be protected, not attacked,” she said.
The Queen’s Speech, written by the government and delivered in the Queen’s absence by the Prince of Wales, featured 38 Bills.
Other proposals included measures to scrap the Human Rights Act, privatise Channel 4, ban conversion therapy and preserve energy security, as well as a proposal to crack down on ferry operators who fail to pay the national minimum wage.
The government also intends to bring forward controversial legislation to prevent public bodies divesting their funds from certain countries.
Palestine Solidarity Campaign director Ben Jamal said: “Boycotting is a legitimate, historically recognised tactic and to employ it is a core democratic right.
“This government is clearly committed to curbing the rising global movement of solidarity with the Palestinians — but the legislation that has been introduced today can be weaponised against any number of causes and brings the state into direct conflict with people’s fundamental right to choose how their money is spent.”
The Friends of Al-Aqsa said it is “extremely concerned” by legislation that will prevent public bodies engaging in boycotts.
A statement from the group said: “In a free society, public bodies must have the right to make ethical choices.
“In the case of Palestine, the boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement is a peaceful call on Israel to comply with international law and end its illegal occupation of Palestine.
"Recently, we have seen the power of BDS with Russia’s invasion and occupation of Ukraine — we must now see the same for Palestine.
“The right to boycott, divest from and sanction those who abuse human rights and fail to comply with international law must be upheld.”
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