The UK is following in other European countries footsteps with new powers to break up the climate group's slow marches.
More than 60 climate activists have been arrested in London under the UK’s “repressive” new anti-protest laws.
Just Stop Oil protesters were taking part in a ‘slow march’ around Parliament Square yesterday morning (30 October), demanding an end to new oil and gas licenses.
Within 10 minutes, Metropolitan police arrived - blocking their path and forcing activists off the road. When this proved unsuccessful, videos and photos show police kneeling on and handcuffing protesters, before carrying them into vans.
This is the first time that the Met have made arrests under section 7 of the Public Order Act 2023, which bans any activity that “interferes with the use or operation of any key national infrastructure in England and Wales.”
It’s part of a wider European crackdown on direct action protests. France and Germany have taken an anti-terror approach to some demonstrations; toughening surveillance and detention laws and even launching dawn raids on the homes of Last Generation members.
Just Stop Oil (JSO) campaigners say they will not be deterred in pursuit of their aim to stop new oil and gas licenses.
“[Our] supporters are willing to slow march to the point of arrest today and every day until the police take action to prosecute the real criminals - the people who are facilitating new oil and gas when they know that to do so will kill hundreds of millions of people,” a spokesperson for the group said.
Is climate protest allowed under the UK’s Public Order Act?
The government has explicitly stated that Britain’s new Public Order Act was designed with JSO, Insulate Britain and other climate groups in mind.
It builds on an old Public Order Act (still in force) which governs the policing of protests. Previously, police had used the powers contained in this act to impose conditions on marches.
So the move to rely on the ‘national infrastructure’ provision in the new act to stop a group which frequently blocks roads represents a significant escalation in policing.
“If you decide to protest on public highways without prior permission, then police may arrest you for interfering with ‘key national infrastructure’. Not every time - but more likely if you’re part of a group seen as ‘aggravated activists’,” Netpol, which monitors UK protest policing, posted on X.
“This will immediately shut down a protest and criminalise everyone involved. That is what makes these new offences so repressive.”
The government says that the new measures will not ban protest, but “only prevent a small minority of individuals from causing serious disruption to the daily lives of the public.”
But human rights groups counter that the government’s definition of “serious disruption” undermines the right to protest - which, says Jun Pang, policy and campaigns officer at charity Liberty, is “a fundamental right, not a gift from the state.”
The new Act bans “serious disruption” to two or more people or an organisation in a public place - where they are hindered from day-to-day activities, including journeys, or construction works are blocked (among other examples).
Blocking roads, airports, oil and gas sites and other ‘key national infrastructure’ can land protesters in jail for 12 months, if you are found to be acting recklessly by taking unjustified risks.
The new powers also prohibit ‘locking on’ - a common and historical protest tactic where people attach themselves to other protesters, objects, roads or buildings.
What does Just Stop Oil say?
A statement from Just Stop Oil describes how quickly police pounced on the protest near Parliament.
The group said that 65 of its supporters began marching in the road circling Parliament Square at 10am.
“At 10:10am, a number of Metropolitan police arrived and began pushing the Just Stop Oil supporters back and forming a chain across the road,” they said.
“Immediately the police began making arrests, arresting 65 people by 10.37[am]. Officers dragged peaceful Just Stop Oil supporters across the pavement, kneeling and sitting on them to detain them.”
Previously, police have struggled to tackle the slow march tactic from JSO - which is typically undertaken in small groups which don’t entirely stop traffic. Officers had to weigh the disruption with the activists’ right to peaceful, political speech. They tended to enforce orders requiring JSO to protest on the pavement instead, which was usually followed within an hour.
The Met said its officers had arrived within four minutes of receiving a report of the protest and began making arrests. Posting on X, the force said it arrested 61 people, all of whom were still in custody on Monday afternoon, UK newspaper the Guardian reports.
“We expect there to be further protests in the coming weeks,” the Met added.