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New protest crackdown measures that could see Insulate Britain demonstrators jailed for causing major disruption are to be unveiled to Parliament
Under the changes due to be tabled on Monday, Insulate Britain protesters – dubbed “irresponsible crusties” by Prime Minister Boris Johnson – could face six months behind bars and slapped with an unlimited fine.
The amendments to the Police, Crime Sentencing and Courts Bill, which are due to be laid in the House of Lords, will also hand the police greater powers to tackle offenders who officers suspect could be about to block or glue themselves to roads, trains, planes and other vital infrastructure.
Nobody should have unchecked rights to endanger the public – and themselves – while causing misery for millions in the name of protest
Home Secretary Priti Patel
The Home Secretary said it was “right” that those who “choose to pursue a path of anti-social, dangerous disruption” faced the prospect of a prison sentence as punishment.
The Home Office said the current law, which sets the penalty at a maximum fine of £1,000, was no longer an adequate deterrent for organisations “determined to cause widespread disruption and break the law”.
Officials said Insulate Britain had caused “months of public misery”, including sparking large traffic jams, holding up ambulances and hospital patients, and preventing commuters from getting to work, by blocking major roads and motorways.
Roads targeted by the group include the M25 around London, the M56 in Manchester and the A4400 in Birmingham, among others.
The department said that, in the first four weeks of protests by the environmentalists, the group cost the Metropolitan Police alone £2 million in wasted police funds, with total arrests reaching nearly 850 to date.
Home Secretary Priti Patel said: “Nobody should have unchecked rights to endanger the public – and themselves – while causing misery for millions in the name of protest.
“There are numerous legitimate ways in which activists can peacefully campaign for meaningful change, and it is right that those who instead choose to pursue a path of anti-social, dangerous disruption should face the prospect of jail.
“It is totally unacceptable that police should be spending their days ungluing faces from dangerous roads. They should be in our communities protecting the vulnerable people who need them most.
“That’s why our Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill is so necessary. The public expect everyone in Parliament to stand up for the hard-working, law-abiding majority, stand up for the police and back the Bill.”
The clampdown on the “guerrilla” tactics of the likes of Extinction Rebellion and Insulate Britain were first put forward in September and cited again in the Home Secretary’s speech to the Conservative Party conference last month.
Other measures due to be unveiled on Monday will include allowing the police to stop and search people where there is a reasonable suspicion they are carrying items intended to cause disturbance by “locking-on” using glue or other means.
Future amendments will also include bringing in “serious disruption prevention orders”, which will give the courts the power to prevent an individual with a history of using disruptive measures from attending certain protests in future.
Orders could apply to someone convicted of protest-related criminal offences such as blocking a motorway, or where there is evidence that they have contributed to similar such protests, the Home Office said.