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Queen's Speech: Road-blocking protestors could be jailed for a year under harsh new UK law

An Extinction Rebellion climate change protester sits with a lock around her neck attached to a bar on a door.
An Extinction Rebellion climate change protester sits with a lock around her neck attached to a bar on a door.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Matt Dunham
By Rosie Frost

The UK government is pushing through new police powers to target peaceful protest actions used by environmental groups like Just Stop Oil, Insulate Britain and Extinction Rebellion.

Under the new laws, it will be illegal for activists to lock or glue themselves to buildings with those that do facing a maximum penalty of six months in prison and an unlimited fine.

Actions that interfere with” national infrastructures, like airports, roads or printing presses, will also be against the law carrying a maximum prison sentence of 12 months and an unlimited fine.

Disrupting the construction of major transport projects, including HS2, could see protestors face six months in prison.

These new public order measures are being pushed through as part of 38 new bills in the Queen’s Speech - which marks the official state opening of the UK Parliament. For the first time in 59 years, the agenda-setting speech was not read by the monarch but by her son Prince Charles.

Dan Kitwood/Pool via REUTERS
Britain's Prince Charles delivers the Queen's Speech during the State Opening of Parliament in the House of Lords Chamber in the Houses of Parliament in London.Dan Kitwood/Pool via REUTERS

“Climate change” was not mentioned once in the speech, where the government outlines its legislative priorities for the coming months. The content is written by ministers under PM Boris Johnson and approved by the Cabinet. 

Where did the new public order laws come from?

The changes to the law were originally proposed last year as part of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. They were stripped out of the legislation by the House of Lords in January which said the measures were “draconian and anti-democratic, reminiscent of Cold War eastern bloc police states.”

Now Home Secretary, Priti Patel, has drawn up a separate Public Order Bill as part of the Queen’s Speech.

“The law-abiding, responsible majority have had enough of anti-social, disruptive protests carried out by a self-indulgent minority who seem to revel in causing mayhem and misery for the rest of us,” Patel claims.

Vuk Valcic / SOPA Images/Sipa USA
A police officer warns protesters not to block Lambeth Bridge during the Insulate Britain demonstration.Vuk Valcic / SOPA Images/Sipa USA

“The public order bill will give the police the powers they need to clamp down on this outrageous behaviour and ensure the British public can go about their lives without disruption.”

Despite being previously rejected, the new plan to introduce the measures relies on the government’s majority in the House of Commons to force through a new law.

UK Government accused of ‘bully boy tactics’

Civil liberty groups previously expressed deep concern over measures to limit protestors when they were first proposed, saying they infringed on the right to protest.

“Earlier this year the Government tried to ban protest. Parliament said no,” Martha Spurrier, director of the campaign group Liberty said on Twitter. She accused the government of “bully boy tactics” in their current attempt to “force this law through.”

Vuk Valcic / SOPA Images/Sipa USA
Insulate Britain protesters glue themselves to the road and blocked Parliament Square.Vuk Valcic / SOPA Images/Sipa USA

“This is not a public order bill - it’s a public oppression bill,” said former UK Green Party leader and current MP, Caroline Lucas.

“We will be working cross party again to defeat. Our right to peaceful protest should be protected, not attacked.”