Rishi Sunak defends new powers for police after coronation protest backlash
Rishi Sunak has defended the government's introduction of new police powers to tackle protests, despite a backlash over the treatment of demonstrators during the coronation.
The Metropolitan Police faced criticism after detaining a number of members of the campaign group Republic on Saturday, and has now expressed "regret" over the arrests, saying its investigation was unable to prove intent to disrupt the event.
The force's commissioner, Sir Mark Rowley, said the detentions were "unfortunate", but insisted his officers were seeking to thwart what he described as a "criminal network"
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Critics placed the blame at the government's door after the new Public Order Act came into force days before the celebrations, allowing officers to stop and search anyone they suspect is planning to cause disruption.
But the prime minister said it was "right for the government to give police the powers they need to tackle serious disruption".
Mr Sunak had previously backed the Met over the arrests ahead of the latest statement from the force, despite concerns they were cracking down.
And while answering questions on Tuesday, he defended the government's move to bring in the new police powers.
'Right thing to do'
Speaking to broadcasters while visiting a pharmacy, the PM would not answer questions about whether he felt comfortable about what happened to protesters at the coronation.
Instead, he said: "Of course people have the right to protest freely but peacefully, but it is also right that people have the ability to go about their day-to-day lives without facing serious disruption.
"And what the government has done is give police the powers that they need to tackle instances of serious disruption to their lives. I think that's the right thing to do and police will make decisions on when they use those powers."
The prime minister added: "We also live in a society where the police are rightly operationally independent of government. They make the decisions on the ground and the way that they see fit. That is the way we have always done it. That's the right way to do it. It wouldn't be right for me to interfere with their operational decisions.
"But it is right for the government to give police the powers they need to tackle serious disruption because as we have seen over the last weeks and months there are lots of incidences of people's day-to-day lives being seriously disrupted by protesters and people are rightly asked why isn't that being stopped.
"So it is right that the government gives the police the powers to deal with those things, but again those are operational decisions for the police on the ground at the time."
MPs from the SNP, Liberal Democrats and the Green Party have all called for the law to be scrapped.
The SNP's Alison Thewliss called the legislation "draconian" and "undemocratic", adding: "By clamping down on the right to protest... the Tories are eroding the basic tenets of a free and democratic society."
And Green Party peer Baroness Jenny Jones said: "The Met were wrong to arrest people on Saturday, but the government was wrong to give them the powers to do so.
"The Public Order Law essentially criminalises peaceful protest by using an approach similar to that used to disrupt terrorism, drug dealing and gang violence.
"For the sake of democracy in the UK and freedom of speech, these new laws all need to go."
But Labour would not commit to reversing the bill.
Speaking to Sky News, Lisa Nandy said: "We're not in the business of just repealing all legislation.
"But we will certainly amend legislation when we're in government in order to strike the right balance between the democratic right to protest and the right of people in Britain to go about their everyday lives without serious disruption."
Earlier, a government minister accused some anti-monarchy protesters of planning to cause "really serious and dangerous and stupid disruption".
Neil O'Brien told Sky News that he didn't have "any objection to peaceful protests" and "in some cases [the force] might have been wrong".
But he also argued "in some cases, they did the right thing", as it was "also a question of what [protesters] were going to do".
Graham Smith, the chief executive of Republic who was one of eight people in his group arrested and detained for several hours, accused the minister of "wild speculation", saying there had been "no intelligence supporting the arrests".
"There is no suggestion of any wrongdoing by the eight people from Republic who were arrested at all," he told Sky News. "There was no intent. There was no evidence of any intent. There was no evidence of any equipment being carried that would have caused the crime.
"And we were very clear with the police for four months [about] the details of our plans, and they were very clear to us that they were okay with those plans."
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Mr Smith said the group was now consulting with lawyers about their next steps and would continue to protest against the monarchy while calling for an elected head of state.
Officers arrested 64 people in total on coronation day following new laws to tackle protests being introduced by the government, with 46 of those later bailed after being detained on suspicion of causing a public nuisance or breaching the peace.