280 arrests at Extinction Rebellion rally as PM pours scorn on protesters

Tom Gillespie, news reporter

Extinction Rebellion protesters brought Westminster to a halt as part of a massive demonstration to demand government action on climate change.

At least 280 people were arrested for their role in blocking roads around parliament and Whitehall, with disruption expected to continue for the next two weeks.

Protests are due to take place across London and activists say they could be as much as five times bigger than those held in April, which brought scenes of chaos to the capital.

Boris Johnson poured scorn on the protesters, as The Daily Telegraph reported that he told attendees at a book launch: "I am afraid that the security people didn't want me to come along tonight because they said the road was full of uncooperative crusties and protesters littering the road."

He added that they lived in "hemp-smelling bivouacs".

Some 21 people had already been arrested by 8am on Monday, including 81-year-old Sarah Lasenby.

The quaker and retired social worker, from Oxford, was arrested alongside others from the Extinction Rebellion Peace group who were blocking Victoria Embankment outside the Ministry of Defence.

Ms Lasenby told Sky News: "For 21 years my main concern has been to help get rid of UK nuclear weapons.

"I am still keen to do this but once I came across Extinction Rebellion I was so relieved to have something I could do about the ghastly state we have got our planet in."

She added: "The whole thing is so urgent that it is imperative the government should take serious actions and put pressure on other states and global powers to radically reduce the use of fossil fuels - even if this means we need to reduce our comfort at home and so much flying."

Another protester, Caroline Hartnell, 69, from London, said: "I have seven grandchildren and the youngest is three. I feel passionately for them (and worry) there is not going to be a world for them to live in."

The protesters are calling on the government to declare a climate and ecological emergency, to act immediately to halt wildlife loss, and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2025.

They also want the government create a citizens' assembly on climate and ecological justice.

Some of the most eye-catching action on Monday took place on Lambeth Bridge in central London.

Sky's climate change correspondent Hannah Thomas-Peter spoke to an elderly protester called Diana, who said she was willing to be arrested.

:: A New Climate is a special series of podcasts from Sky News Daily. Listen on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Spreaker

She told Sky News: "Unless we do something dramatic and make a lot of trouble, this terrible climate change disaster is going to continue happening.

"We need to raise the profile, we need the government to listen, and whatever age, whatever sex agenda, we need to be out here. I've decided I've got nothing to lose."

One activist, a 25-year-old teacher from London, told Sky News he took the week off to join the protests.

He said: "The plan is to shut down the whole of London. The issue of climate change is an issue for everyone, and it's clear we can't leave it to the politicians.

"I booked the week off work for this. The school kids are out protesting too. Everyone is."

The demonstrations in London are part of an "international rebellion" around the world, with action taking place in cities including Berlin, Madrid, Amsterdam and New York.

Other groups aside from Extinction Rebellion are also taking action.

Animal Rebellion protesters are demonstrating in London by walking from Russell Square to Smith Meat Market.

The group describes itself as a "mass volunteer movement using nonviolent civil disobedience to end the animal agriculture industries".