The British Conservative government introduced on Monday January 16 an amendment to the Public Order Bill reinforcing the already repressive nature of this text, which explicitly aims to hinder the radical but pacifist actions of environmental activists – Extinction Rebellion (XR), Just Stop Oil or Insulate Britain – which have multiplied the blockages of roads, highways or bridges in recent years in the United Kingdom.
The text allows the police to act preventively and arrest activists even before they have taken action if they have good reason to believe that these people intend to take part in a “serious blockage” or to a “slow walk” to slow down traffic. The amendment was made to the bill, which has already passed third reading in the House of Commons and is pending in the House of Lords. Nothing says that the latter will adopt it without blinking: in recent years, the Upper House of Westminister has shown itself to be less right-wing than the House of Commons, in particular on questions of civil liberties.
“The right to demonstrate is a fundamental principle of our democracy, but it is not absolute. A balance must be struck between the rights of individuals and the rights of the majority of workers to go about their daily business., Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said in a statement from Downing Street. Pressured into action by the right wing of the Conservative Party, which sees climate activists as dangerous agitators without public support, the British government is constantly tightening its legislative arsenal.
Passed in 2022, the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act already introduced a specific offence, known as “public nuisance” authorizing the police to suppress protesters making ” too much noise “ and increasing penalties for “road obstruction” (up to jail time). Without the government amendment, the Public Order Bill already provides for the criminalization of “blockages” and “interference” with key national infrastructures.
On the climate action front itself, Downing Street, on the other hand, is singularly lacking in coherence. Admittedly, the executive regularly reiterates its commitments (achieving carbon neutrality by 2050, the objective is enshrined in law) but validated in 2022 the issuance of around a hundred hydrocarbon exploitation licenses in the North Sea and even authorised, in December, the opening of a coal mine in Cumbria (north-west of England).
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