On Monday, midway through their fortnight of direct action to force the UK government to act on climate change, Extinction Rebellion focused their day on London’s financial district. XR blocked major roads into the area and access to institutions including the Bank of England and the stock exchange, with some activists gluing themselves to buildings and many pushing the police into arresting them.
By the end of day the police had implemented a ban on all XR protests across London, saying that anyone protesting would be arrested irrespective of what they are doing.
Speaking to the Victoria Derbyshire programme, Extinction Rebellion campaigner and former Met Police officer Paul Stephens said: “Police are being really sloppy with the law, and it won’t stand up in court.”
He added that “there will be a judicial review”.
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has said he is “seeking further information” about the decision to impose the ban and why it was necessary.
“I believe the right to peaceful and lawful protest must always be upheld,” he said.
Anti-Brexit barrister Jo Maugham QC said the move was “a huge overreach” of police powers, while human rights lawyer Adam Wagner described it as “draconian and extremely heavy-handed”.
Mr Wagner added in a tweet: “”We have a right to free speech under article 10 and to free assembly under article 11 of the (annex to the) Human Rights Act. These can only be interfered with if the interference is lawful and proportionate. I think the police may have gone too far here.”
The BBC’s explanation of police powers is at the bottom of that link.
Amnesty International UK’s press release,
On Monday evening, the Metropolitan Police issued a revised section 14 order saying demonstrators protesting in London after 21:00 BST could be arrested.
Allan Hogarth, Head of Advocacy and Programmes at Amnesty International UK, said:
“Imposing a blanket ban on Extinction Rebellion protests is an unlawful restriction on the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. Under UK and international human rights law, the Government has an obligation to facilitate the exercise of these rights.
“The majority of those protesting have been doing so peacefully, removing and prosecuting activists for engaging in non-violent direct action to raise their voice is deeply worrying. Overly harsh and disproportionate charges will have a chilling effect on rights.
The Guardian reports that XR protests have continued,
However, by 8am on Tuesday it was clear the climate campaigners had no intention of backing down as one of the organisation’s founders, Gail Bradbrook, led a protest at the Department for Transport in London.
Standing on top of the entrance of the building before she was arrested, Bradbrook called on ministers to explain how their continued expansion of roads and airports fitted with a net-zero emissions target. “I do this for the beautiful pear tree at Cubbington Woods, 250 years old – they have no rights. I do this in fierce love of the 108 ancient woodlands threatened by HS2, this climate crime of a project. I do this in the spirit of what Emmeline Pankhurst called the noble art of window smashing.”
Eight days, 1500 arrests – including Gail Bradbrook, co-founder of @ExtinctionR. "Emmeline Pankhurst said, 'There is a noble art to window-smashing," said Bradbrook, after banging a hole in the transport ministry's front window. Story by @matthew__green https://t.co/o2EWpIui8q— Andrew RC Marshall (@Journotopia) October 15, 2019
National spokesperson for Extinction Rebellion, Rupert Read,
Extinction Rebellion arose out of the UK white middle class activist community, which explains something important about their strategy of intentional arrests. Their actions are designed to overload the police and justice system as part of wider disruptions to the governance of the United Kingdom in order to force the government to act on climate change.
XR has been criticised for this approach because of the large disparity between how white, middle class people will be treated by police compared to everyone else. There’s also been concern about how XR’s actions will change the safety and function of other climate activism. While there are important issues here for XR and other activist movements to work through, there is also great value in white middle class people finally standing up and doing the right thing by putting their own wellbeing at risk.
If the police don’t back down on the ban I suspect we are about to see XR put their money where their mouth is, with increased resolve for the cause. This is consistent with their approach which is based on successful historic social movements that used sustained disruption to force change.
It’s not surprising that the police would eventually crack down, nor that they would do so once financial institutions were targeted. While XR has been serious in their campaign and extremely well organised, watching from the outside the feeling up until now has often been carnivalesque and big theatre. The actions of the police this week are sobering, and there is risk here for XR, both for individuals, and also with the chaotic nature of fast social change and who will be blamed if things go badly. But the rebellion cause is deadly serious and I can’t see XR backing off given the depth of feeling and thought about the coming climate crises.
Ironically, on Sunday the The Guardian reported this from the financial sector,
Companies and industries that are not moving towards zero-carbon emissions will be punished by investors and go bankrupt, the governor of the Bank of England has warned.
Mark Carney also told the Guardian it was possible that the global transition needed to tackle the climate crisis could result in an abrupt financial collapse. He said the longer action to reverse emissions was delayed, the more the risk of collapse would grow.
Shit is getting real with increasingly widespread acceptance of the climate emergency and the urgent need to change. At some point the government will have to step up and make a decision about whether to meet with XR over their demands or to double down as a repressive state.
Moderation note: no climate denial comments under my posts, thanks.