Labour slams 'deeply worrying' police crackdown on Extinction Rebellion protests
Labour has blasted police for imposing a ban on Extinction Rebellion protesters calling it a “grotesque overreaction and extremely worrying attack on basic civil liberties”.
Shadow policing minister Louise Haigh accused officers of an erosion of a “fundamental cornerstone of our democracy” by removing demonstrators from Trafalgar Square.
The Metropolitan Police announced on Monday that any protest which had not ceased by 9pm would be “liable for arrest and prosecution”.
Extinction Rebellion activists, who began their mass action aimed at highlighting the threat posed by climate change last week, were due to stay camped at the central London landmark until the weekend.
So far more than 1,400 members of the group have been arrested, after roads were blocked and transport links shut down.
But after they moved to target the City of London’s financial district the Met moved to use Section 14 of the Public Order Act 1986 to clear any protesters from the streets.
Deputy Assistant Commissioner Laurence Taylor said: “These conditions have been imposed due to the continued breaches of the section 14 condition previously implemented, and ongoing serious disruption to the community.
“We have made significant progress in managing Extinction Rebellion’s activity at sites across central London over this past week.
"Officers have begun the process of clearing Trafalgar Square and getting things back to normal.”
But Ms Haigh tweeted: “This is a grotesque overreaction and extremely worrying attack on basic civil liberties.”
And she told PoliticsHome: "The right to free assembly is a fundamental cornerstone of our democracy and its erosion by the Met Police is deeply worrying.
“You may disagree with Extinction Rebellion's tactics but their message is undeniable - politicians have failed on climate change and rather than listening this government is instead seeking to shut down debate entirely."
And Dianne Abbott, Labour’s shadow home secretary, said: “The Labour Party unequivocally supports the right to protest.
“The Extinction Rebellion protests have been largely peaceful and brought vital attention to the climate emergency – the most important issue facing the world.
“Any criminal acts should of course be handled by police, but an outright ban is wrong and completely contrary to Britain’s long-held traditions of policing by consent, freedom of speech, and the right to protest.”
Lord Brian Paddick, a Lib Dem home affairs spokesperson and former Met police commander, said: “The police should be facilitating peaceful and legal protest as much as enforcing the law against those protesters who break it.
“Bans are unusual because it usually takes more police officers to enforce them than it does to allow protests to go ahead, despite having to deal protestors who break the law.”
Extinction Rebellion said it would "let Trafalgar Square go" but added that the "international rebellion continues".
In a statement the group added: “The climate and ecological emergency isn’t going away and we remain resolute in facing it.
“We urge the Government and the authorities to join us in doing the same. We cannot do it alone. This is bigger than all of us.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “The right to protest peacefully is a long-standing tradition in this country and a vital foundation of our democracy.
“It is also essential that people can go about their daily business without disruption.
“Operational decisions are a matter for the police.”