Powers to help police deal with disruptive protests are “under constant review” following Extinction Rebellion’s (XR) printing press blockade, the Government has said.
Home Office minister Kit Malthouse accused some XR activists of seeking to “impose an extremist world view” on others, claiming the “worthy cause” of environmental campaigning is “undermined by their tactics”.
He condemned the blockade of newspaper printing presses by XR activists, which left some newsagents’ shelves empty on Saturday morning.
Mr Malthouse said he and Home Secretary Priti Patel are committed to ensuring the police have the “powers required to deal with the disruption” caused by groups, such as XR, telling the Commons: “I will keep the tools available to tackle this behaviour under constant review.”
He also said the tactics used by XR protesters will be examined to ensure police have the tools needed to “deal with” problems swiftly.
The minister explained: “The fact that the disruption was successful would indicate that there wasn’t a police presence there to prevent the intervention and no doubt there will be questions asked about how intelligence around these protests can be improved.
“As part of that work, we will be looking at the tactics deployed by these protesters, not least the gluing-on and locking-on which is a new phenomenon of the last couple of years that’s required the police to develop specialist teams, if you like, and techniques, paradoxically using quite unpleasant chemicals to get people unglued off, to make sure that the police have got exactly the tools they need, both from a legal point of view but from a practical point of view to deal with these kinds of problems swiftly.”
Earlier, Mr Malthouse told MPs that 51 protesters were arrested and charged in Hertfordshire and 30 protesters arrested and charged in Merseyside.
He added the Government would “never” curtail the right to peaceful protest, adding: “Equally it’s unacceptable for groups such as XR to hide behind the guise of protest while committing criminal acts which prevent law-abiding citizens from going about their lives.”
Activists who “plan to curtail our freedoms through criminal acts … will face the full force of the law”, Mr Malthouse said before adding: “As a Government we will not stand by and allow the livelihoods of hard-working people to be undermined by a minority using the pretence of tackling climate change to impose an extremist world view.”
For Labour, shadow Home Office minister Sarah Jones said preventing people from buying newspapers of their choice sets back the cause of tackling climate change.
She told the Commons: “I trust that (Mr Malthouse) will agree with me rather than some members of his own party in recognising that tackling climate change is the challenge of our generation.
“However, we also know that the free press is the cornerstone of democracy and we must do all we can to protect it.
“As a result, actions that stop people being able to read what they choose are wrong.
“They will do nothing to tackle climate change.
“Those who break the law should be held to account and as (Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer) said over the weekend, the actions of those that deliberately set out to break the law and stifle the freedom of the press are completely unacceptable.
“Stopping people being able to buy the newspapers they choose and hitting small businesses in the process is hugely counter-productive.
“It does nothing to tackle the vital cause of tackling climate change, in fact it sets it back.”
SNP justice spokesman Kenny MacAskill said: “To be over-reacting is something that we have to be very wary about.
“The protests replicated actions that have been taken through the centuries from the Chartists through the Suffragettes to trade unionists and civil rights protesters.”
Responding, Mr Malthouse said the SNP’s view was “outside mainstream opinion”.