Extinction Rebellion 'highly disruptive and damaging', says Ipswich MP

Members of Extinction Rebellion lay in the torrential rain at their die-in Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Extinction Rebellion previously held this protest in Suffolk, but have continued to demonstrate in London this week - Credit: Archant

It wasn’t long ago when the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill was passing through parliament and receiving its second reading.

The scope of this Bill was very wide, covering a number of different important matters - but part of it involved giving our police greater powers to maintain public order.

The government’s aim is for the police to have more power to place limits on protests if they become violent and disruptive.

Predictably, this triggered a cry of outrage from sections of the left and accusations that the government was trying to remove our right to protest.

Over the spring and early part of the summer, this triggered a number of highly disruptive protests under the headline: “Kill the Bill."

When the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill passed through Parliament, the Labour Party voted against it.

In fact, a number of leading Labour politicians made it crystal clear that one of the principal reasons they voted against the Bill was due to the section which involved giving the police greater powers to deal with highly disruptive public protests.

Extinction Rebellion protestors carried signs warning poeple to act now and save lives Picture: SARA

Extinction Rebellion's protests are eye-catching, but often controversial - Credit: Archant

Most Read

Following the highly disruptive and often violent protests we saw last summer, I was very pleased to support this section of the Bill.

However, if there was any part of me having second thoughts ahead of the Bill coming back to Parliament for its third reading (I don’t), then the events of the last couple of weeks would have put me right.

Over the past couple of weeks, we have seen constant protests in our nation’s capital that have caused immense disruption to the lives of hundreds of thousands - if not millions - of people.

Many businesses that have been looking to recover after the lifting of Covid restrictions have seen their lives made that bit harder. Roads have been blocked and whole sections of the capital have essentially been shut down.

Earlier this week, Tower Bridge was closed as it was blocked by Extinction Rebellion activists parking a van and a caravan on it.

Extinction Rebellion aside, in Brighton this week we saw the opening of a new vaccination centre being disrupted by hundreds of protestors gathering outsideto listen to the notorious conspiracy theorist Kate Shemirani speak.

I note that Green Party and Brighton MP Caroline Lucas felt able to condemn this, rightly. However, I wonder if she’d have been equally as condemnatory if those activists had been from Extinction Rebellion.

My own personal view is that the Metropolitan Police haven’t been as robust as I would have liked in dealing with these disruptive protects.

I guess one of the reasons for this is the fact that the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill hasn’t currently passed all the parliamentary hurdles it needs to.

However, I was pleased to see the police strongly confront Extinction Rebellion activists earlier this week, when they attempted to block off a key road near the Science Museum in London with their ridiculous “Beacon of Truth” structure.

I think it's very important that the police don’t cast value judgements on which protest is more legitimate than another or which cause is more noble. It’s vitally important for public faith in the police that they steer clear of politics.

Sections of the left paint this debate as being very black and white. You either support the right to protest without any limits or restrictions at all, or you are against the right to protest and are some sort of authoritarian.

I remember actually being shouted at on the street by “Kill the Bill” protestors for being a so-called fascist, having voted for the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill.

The reality is that I believe that most of us adopt a middle of the road position on this issue.

Yes, we agree with the right to protest - but we don’t agree with the right to cause endless disruption to the lives of the law-abiding majority.

I support the right of Extinction Rebellion activists to protest, but does this really need to be over the course of the best part of two weeks? And should they really be allowed to cause such chaos?

My view is no. It’s time to do something about it - and the best way to do that is for all MPs to vote through the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill when it comes back to Parliament, most likely this autumn.

However, once the police get these new powers, it's vitally important they use them as and when they need to.

Ipswich MP Tom Hunt. Picture: PARLIAMENT LIVE TV

Ipswich MP Tom Hunt disagrees with Extinction Rebellion's tactics - Credit: Archant

The majority of the public have become sick and tired of the scenes we’ve seen over the past couple of weeks and will fully back the police to do what they need to.

I wouldn’t be surprised if some Labour figures had the brass neck to condemn the behaviour of Extinction Rebellion this week.

But we must not forget that it is the Labour Party who continue to vote against the very measures that are needed to rein in these sort of highly disruptive protests.

Moreover, it’s the local Labour Party who actually condemned me in the run-up to the last general election for refusing to attend a debate hosted by Extinction Rebellion.

Their attack on me very much seemed to imply that you can’t be pro-tackling climate change and simultaneously concerned about the behaviour of the extremist group Extinction Rebellion at the same time.

The truth is that not only are the tactics used by Extinction Rebellion highly disruptive and damaging but, sadly, I believe they are so alienating that they have actually become counterproductive to the cause of environmentalism.