Protests uk lockdown

Priti Patel has quietly been stuffing even more punitive anti-protest powers into the policing billIt is, without hyperbole or caveat, a piece of law which would sit more easily in a dictatorship than a democracy
She's done it very quietly. Away from prying eyes, in the parts of parliament which journalists don't pay much attention to, Priti Patel has effectively criminalised the act of protest. The Government waited until the final stages of a bill's legislative process and then suddenly proposed a series of amendments, leaving reporters and human rights groups very little time to raise the alarm.

The mechanism she's used is the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts bill, which first went before the Commons in March for its initial debate, and is now being turned into something even more alarming in the House of Lords.

The bill was already a stunningly draconian piece of legislation. One of its chief provisions was to allow police to impose severe restrictions on protests on the basis of noise. If they were loud enough to cause "serious unease, alarm or distress" to a single passer-by - a description which covers any demonstration at all - the police power was triggered.

At the time, the so-called libertarians on the Tory benches voted with the Government. Figures like Philip Davies, David Davis and Steve Baker, who had spent the preceding months warning of the tyranny of anti-Covid measures, were suddenly silent when it came to an assault on protest. Instead, they waved away concerns, saying that the more alarming aspects of the bill could be addressed later in committee stage - the part of a bill's life when it is supposed to be combed over by parliamentarians.

In fact, the opposite has happened. Instead of toning the bill down, the Home Secretary has made it vastly more dangerous, adding several aggressive new provisions. And now, as it goes through committee stage in the Lords, these new powers are being heaped on it, turning it into the single greatest legislative threat to British liberties in our lifetime.

The first mechanism is stop and search. Under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, police can use this power if they have "reasonable grounds for suspecting" someone is carrying certain items or something which could be used to violate certain laws, like burglary or theft. Patel is massively expanding the kinds of laws which might be included.

Now police can deploy stop and search to avoid "serious disruption" or a "public nuisance". They can be initiated "whether or not the constable has any grounds for suspecting that the person... is carrying a prohibited object". It's carte blanche for invasive police action against activists.

Those who refuse to give themselves up to this intrusion face the full force of the law. Anyone found guilty of obstructing a stop and search during a protest faces a jail term "not exceeding 51 weeks". In other words, they risk imprisonment for nearly a year.

Patel then appears to take direct aim at the Insulate Britain protests. Amendment 319C criminalises "wilful obstruction of a highway".


Comment: Insulate Britain and Extinction Rebellion are not the real targets, they were simply useful idiots.


Amendment 319D criminalises the obstruction of "major transport works", including roads, rail lines or airport runways. Amendment 319A creates an offence of "locking on", or carrying equipment which might facilitate it. It targets anyone who attaches themselves to "a person, to an object or to land". These all come with a potential 51 week prison sentence. In fact, this penalty is plastered all over the legislation.

Insulate Britain protestors supergluing themselves to a road are the clear target, but the powers go far beyond them. There is no definition of the term "attach", so it could equally be applied to protestors who link arms during a sit-down protest, or even hold hands. It could apply to someone found with superglue while walking past a protest, or to the disabled activists who chained their wheelchairs to traffic lights over benefits cuts.

This is an assault on the core techniques of British protest throughout history: chaining yourself to public property and blocking roads. It's what the Suffragettes did. It's what anti-war demonstrators do. Only last month, activists managed to stop a deportation flight after blocking the road in front of a detention centre. Now all these tactics will be illegal.

But the most far-reaching and alarming part of the legislation is called an SDPO, or Serious Disruption Prevention Order. It is one of the most egregious assaults on individual freedom we've seen in modern legislation.

An SDPO is basically a protest Asbo. It can be imposed on anyone convicted of a "protest-related offence". This category alone is extremely broad. It potentially applies, under the provisions of the bill itself, to the examples above - possessing superglue near a demonstration, or holding hands during a protest.

But even that is not enough. Amendment 342M.2.iii allows it to be imposed on people whose activities "were likely to result in serious disruption". In other words, you do not even have to have been convicted of a crime. You do not even need to have caused disruption. It's enough that you might have.

Once the order is imposed, it eradicates your rights to freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. Those under an order can be forced to report to the authorities whenever the courts demand it, as often as they demand it. They must "present themselves to a particular person at a particular place at... particular times on particular days".

They can also be prohibited from being at a certain place, or possessing certain items, or participating in certain activities, or socialising with certain people, for up to two years. They can be blocked from using the internet to "encourage" people to "carry out activities related to a protest". Someone who used their social media account to promote a demonstration could be found in breach of the order. The SDPOs are a full-scale assault on the individual's human rights. And they can apply even if they've never been convicted of a crime.

It's hard to remember a piece of legislation in this country which provided such a far-reaching threat to our freedoms. Certainly nothing in the Thatcher or Blair period comes anywhere close to what we're seeing here. This is a direct challenge to the right of assembly and free expression.

It is, without hyperbole or caveat, a piece of law which would sit more easily in a dictatorship than a democracy. You'd expect to see it in Belarus.


Comment: Far from it, Belarus didn't lockdown its people and roll out a police state, the UK did.


But instead we're seeing it here, under a home secretary who is now so authoritarian she poses an existential threat to British liberty.