Keep on Trucking: UK Home Secretary Priti Patel Unveils Plans to Get Tough With Motorway Protesters
10:56 GMT 05.10.2021 (Updated: 13:00 GMT 01.03.2022)
Motorists and truckers using some of Britain’s busiest motorways and bridges have endured weeks of misery as protesters from the pressure group Insulate Britain disrupted traffic. With a petrol crisis at the same time, tempers have frayed with some motorists dragging demonstrators off roads.
Home Secretary Priti Patel has unveiled plans for tough new legislation which will make it easier for police to arrest protesters who are blocking roads and motorways
and throw them in jail.
In a speech to the Conservative Party conference, she referred to the Insulate Britain protesters as “criminals” and said: "Freedom to protest is a fundamental right. But it must be within the law".
Patel, who is seen as a hardliner in the Conservative Party, said she would create a new offence of “interference with key infrastructures” which would include roads, railways and even media buildings and printing presses.
In September 2020, Extinction Rebellion protesters blocked
roads leading to and from presses used by The Times, The Sun, the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail.
She also plans to increase the maximum penalties for disrupting motorways and create new powers to stop protesters travelling across the country, an echo of the powers Margaret Thatcher used in the 1980s to stop “flying pickets” during the miners’ strike.
Insulate Britain, an offshoot of the Extinction Rebellion group, has gridlocked traffic multiple times over the past month, with protesters sitting down in highways and gluing themselves to the pavement.
The demonstrations have raised the profile of the group, which is calling for Britain's ageing homes to become more energy efficient. But they have also infuriated motorists and disrupted businesses.
Last month, the British government obtained an injunction to protect the M25 - London’s orbital motorway - from protesters from Insulate Britain who have blocked it several times.
On Wednesday, 22 September, the High Court granted injunctions which made it a criminal offence to block the M25 or any of its slip roads.
At a hearing at the High Court in London on Tuesday, 5 October, 111 Insulate Britain protesters were served with a copy of one of the injunctions, which meant they could go to jail if they breach them.
But the system of injunctions is extremely unwieldy and expensive and Patel plans to “close down the legal loopholes”, which the demonstrators have exploited and make it easier for the police to break up the blockades.
The police have been accused of pussyfooting around the protesters, and one Hertfordshire Police officer was widely mocked after she was caught asking protesters on the M25 if there was “anything they wanted.”
On Monday, 4 October, angry motorists dragged
protesters from the road as they tried to block Wandsworth Bridge in central London.