With nothing better to worry about, the Prime Minister is clamping down on protestors and the fundamental right to protest, which has sparked outrage from civil liberties campaigners. It is troubling that the Government seeks to extend its powers in such a draconian way.

Through an amendment tabled to the Public Order Bill, the Government will broaden the legal definition of ‘serious disruption’, giving police greater flexibility and clarity over when to intervene to stop the disruptive minority who use tactics such as blocking roads and slow marching.

This puts quite a lot of power and discretion in the hands of the Police.

In practice, this will mean:

  • police will not need to wait for disruption to take place and can shut protests down immediately
  • police will not need to treat a series of protests by the same group as standalone incidents but will be able to consider their total impact
  • police will be able to consider long-running campaigns designed to cause repeat disruption over a period of days or weeks
Police. Image by Andrew Martin from Pixabay

PM Sunak says:

The changes introduced today will give police officers absolute clarity over when they should step in. In practice, this will mean:

“The right to protest is a fundamental principle of our democracy, but this is not absolute. A balance must be struck between the rights of individuals and the rights of the hard-working majority to go about their day-to-day business.

“We cannot have protests conducted by a small minority disrupting the lives of the ordinary public. It’s not acceptable and we’re going to bring it to an end.

“The police asked us for more clarity to crack down on these guerrilla tactics, and we have listened.”

Such a shame that the Government isn’t listening to anyone else, really.

The human rights group, Liberty, says:

“Protest is a fundamental right, not a gift from the State. But our right to protest continues to be attacked by a Government determined to silence people and hide from accountability.

“These new proposals should be seen for what they are: a desperate attempt to shut down any route for ordinary people to make their voices heard. Allowing the police to shut down protests before any disruption has taken place simply on the off-chance that it might sets a dangerous precedent, not to mention making the job of officers policing protests much more complex.

“From championing refugee rights to raising the alarm on the cost-of-living crisis, striking for workers’ rights, and fighting for racial and climate justice, protest today remains a crucial way for people to hold the Government to account. This latest attack on our rights must be resisted.