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Opposing the Protest Crackdown Law

July 5, 2021 5:32 PM
Originally published by UK Liberal Democrats

As you may have noticed, this Conservative Government doesn't like to be challenged.

Just look at how angry and red-faced Boris Johnson gets at Prime Minister's Questions every week. Just listen to how often Ministers rail against lawyers and the courts, because judges sometimes rule against them. Just remember how they refused to do interviews with journalists who might dare to ask difficult questions.

MPs vote today on Priti Patel's Protest Crackdown Law

And now comes their latest attempt to silence any opposition to their policies, as MPs vote today on Priti Patel's Protest Crackdown Law - or, to use its official title, Part 3 of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill.

The new law would, if passed, give the police new powers to clampdown on protests if they are noisy. It would also create a new criminal offence of "intentionally or recklessly causing public nuisance", punishable by up to ten years in prison.

Causing someone "serious annoyance" could land you in prison for up to ten years.

And what counts as "public nuisance"? Anything that causes anyone "serious annoyance". Yes, really. That's what the Bill says. Causing someone "serious annoyance" could land you in prison for up to ten years.

When she introduced this new law in Parliament, Priti Patel rightly said that "The right to protest peacefully is a cornerstone of our democracy". She said the Government would always defend it. Except, apparently, if your protest makes any noise or annoys anyone. And really, what good would a protest be if it didn't?

Such a draconian crackdown on protests is completely unacceptable.

Such a draconian crackdown on protests is completely unacceptable. It's unnecessary, because the police already have powers to deal with protests that go too far - as police chiefs themselves have said. And it's frankly un-British.

The right to peaceful assembly and protest is a fundamental human right, and it has always been a crucial part of our democratic society. Look back to any of the big strides of social progress we've made throughout our history, and you'll usually find that it started with people protesting for change.

The freed slaves who joined with Quakers, Anglicans and many others to protest for the abolition of the slave trade more than 200 years ago. The suffragettes who fought heroically to secure votes for women. The marches against hunger and unemployment a century ago that helped pave the way for the expansion of the welfare state after World War II.

Protests are an essential way for people to make their voices heard. Noisily if necessary.

Protests are an essential way for people to make their voices heard. Noisily if necessary.

In 2003, two million people marched against the Iraq War - I'm sure to the annoyance of Tony Blair, at the very least. In 2005, 200,000 people formed a human chain around Edinburgh to call on world leaders to make poverty history. In 2019, tens of thousands turned out to protest the state visit of Donald Trump, a man not known for having a particularly thick skin.

And let's not forget the protestors I have disagreed with over the years. Against the hunting ban or in favour of Brexit, for example. I may have disapproved of what they were protesting about, I may even have been annoyed by them on occasion, but I will defend to the death their right to protest peacefully for what they believe in.

It is part of this Conservative Government's broader assault on the rule of law.

The Protest Crackdown Law would seriously undermine that crucial right, and lead to people being unnecessarily criminalised simply for exercising it. It is part of this Conservative Government's broader assault on the rule of law and Tory Ministers' anti-democratic attempts to suppress any challenge to their power.

That's why my Liberal Democrat colleagues and I are fiercely opposing the new law and will be voting against it this evening. I very much hope that principled MPs from all parties will join us, and defend everyone's right to protest peacefully, noisily - and even annoyingly.