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Climate Protests in Cambridge: Police Response

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:55 pm on 3rd March 2020.

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Photo of Gareth Bacon Gareth Bacon Conservative, Orpington 3:55 pm, 3rd March 2020

I rise to support the sentiments expressed so eloquently by my hon. Friend Anthony Browne. In doing so, I acknowledge that we face a conundrum. I believe that all Members in this House support the right to peaceful protest, and I do not think that anything said here today should diminish that right, but a balance needs to be struck, because certain pressure groups have extended that right to the point where they are abusing it. There is a danger that some of them are becoming a law unto themselves.

Speaking as a Member who represents a constituency within the boundaries of Greater London, I can say that London has had more than its fair share of this. Last year, in the first Extinction Rebellion protest, we saw a wholesale attempt to shut down the city of London, including major transport hubs. That had several impacts, which were all deliberately intended. The first was impact on the police themselves. I have spoken to my local borough commander, and he tells me that they had to extract an entire shift, one of the three they have, in order to send it to central London to provide cover and bolster the support provided simply to contain the level of protest. That has a knock-on effect back in the boroughs: they are unable to respond as speedily as they would otherwise; the watches they have on duty are massively overstretched; and local residents get a much worse service. The implication of that is a danger of crime spikes and people’s safety goes down significantly.

There is also an impact on the emergency services. In the areas where the protests were taking place ambulances were unable to get through, despite being on blue-light calls—that is scandalous. There was a huge economic impact in London. The cost of the protest just in terms of policing was in excess of £40 million. As my hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire has said, there are dangers of this escalating. Just yesterday, people from Greenpeace took it upon themselves to superglue shut the doors of 85 Barclays bank branches and hammer nails into those doors to prevent them from being opened. That was on the first day of the month, so it had a big impact, not only on private customers but on business. Greenpeace is not known for that kind of direct action, so it is clearly an escalation based on what it saw Extinction Rebellion getting away with at the end of last year.

On a more sinister level is the escalation in reaction against these protests. When the police are standing by and being seen not to enforce the law, there is a great danger that local citizens will take it upon themselves to do so. We saw a clear example—it can still be seen on social media now—of what happened when Extinction Rebellion decided to stop people commuting in Canning Town. A protestor marching along the roof of a train was dragged off quite violently and received a kicking on the platform, apparently to the cheering applause of the people standing around. That is sinister. If that starts to happen and to get public approval, the danger is that this will become very significant. Jim Shannon expressed the danger of what happens when hotheads take control; I have set out an example of what can happen, and it can only get worse.