MPs urge Government to allow protests as thousands march over lockdown rules

Gavin Cordon, PA Whitehall Editor
·2-min read

The Government is coming under renewed pressure to ease coronavirus lockdown restrictions to allow protests to go ahead.

More than 60 MPs and peers have signed a letter warning that allowing the police to criminalise people for protesting is “is not acceptable and is arguably not lawful”.

It came as thousands of people marched through the centre of London in protest against lockdown restrictions, with police making more than 30 arrests.

The letter to Home Secretary Priti Patel and Health Secretary Matt Hancock was co-ordinated by Liberty and Big Brother Watch.

Signatories include the Tory MPs Sir Charles Walker, Steve Baker, Sir Christopher Chope and Sir Desmond Swayne and the Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey.

It follows the outcry over the way the Metropolitan Police moved in to break up a vigil last week on Clapham Common in memory of Sarah Everard.The letter said such “shocking scenes” were “entirely avoidable” if the Government had provided guidance to police and ensured protests were clearly exempt from the ban on gatherings under lockdown.

Sam Grant, head of policy and campaigns at Liberty, said: “In a healthy democracy, protest is a critical way we can fight for what we believe in.“The Government’s current quasi-ban on protest is completely unacceptable.

Anti-lockdown protest in central London
People taking part in an anti-lockdown protest in central London (Victoria Jones, PA Wire)

“Last week, the police conceded protest is not banned under the lockdown regulations, but used them to threaten then arrest demonstrators anyway.

“The Home Secretary must immediately issue guidance to all police forces to ensure socially distanced protests can go ahead and create an explicit exemption for protest in the current regulations.”

The London anti-lockdown protest began at Hyde Park at around noon on Saturday, with supporters marching along Oxford Street, Chancery Lane, the Embankment and Parliament Square before heading up Whitehall.

Police surround the band stand in Clapham Common, London, after the Reclaim These Streets vigil for Sarah Everard was officially cancelled
Police surround the band stand in Clapham Common, London, after the Reclaim These Streets vigil for Sarah Everard was officially cancelled (Victoria Jones/PA)

Later a couple of hundred people returned to Hyde Park, where police officers with riot helmets and shields were present.

The Metropolitan Police said 33 people had been arrested by 6.45pm, mostly for breaching Covid regulations.