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Climate Protests in Cambridge: Police Response

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:39 pm on 3rd March 2020.

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Photo of Anthony Browne Anthony Browne Conservative, South Cambridgeshire 3:39 pm, 3rd March 2020

I would not have asked for this Adjournment debate if I thought the issues arising from policing in Cambridge during the recent climate protests were of merely local interest, or related only to events in the past, but they are issues of national importance. Police forces across the country will have to grapple with them as the protests spread to other towns and cities, as they inevitably will. We have had London and Cambridge—where next? Far from being confined to the past, it seems to me that we are at the start of protests that are likely to escalate in frequency, duration and severity. There is widespread public anger about the events in Cambridge and deep concern among many of my fellow MPs. We have reached a situation in the UK where the police sometimes no longer believe that they have a right to stop blatant criminality during political protests. The issues raised by events in Cambridge need to be resolved. The powers of the police must be clarified, and the police must have the confidence to use them. Otherwise, we risk undermining the rule of law and even public support for the police.

On 16 February, Extinction Rebellion activists started a week of protests in Cambridge that initially involved a blockade of two major roads into Cambridge, preventing vehicles from getting in and out of the city and forcing ambulances carrying patients and other emergency vehicles to be re-routed. The blockade remained in place for a week. Blockading a road is an offence under section 137 of the Highways Act 1980, but the police did not uphold the law and open the roads. Instead, they used emergency powers to close the roads legally, thereby giving protection to the blockades. The police were usually present during the blockades, but to protect the activists from angry members of the public.