Just Stop Oil says only threat of death sentence would stop its protests

Climate activists defiant as public order bill aims to curtail civil disobedience tactics

UK climate activists have vowed to continue their disruptive protests until the government imposes the death penalty for their actions, as they signalled their contempt for a new bill aimed at curtailing their civil disobedience tactics.

The public order bill, which passed through the Commons this week and is now before the House of Lords, takes aim at “criminal, disruptive and self-defeating guerrilla tactics” used by groups such as Just Stop Oil and Insulate Britain.

It would introduce stiff penalties for “lock-on” protests, used regularly by groups such as Extinction Rebellion (XR) and Just Stop Oil, as well as new offences of interfering with key national infrastructure, obstructing major transport works and causing serious disruption by tunnelling.

It has met with significant opposition, not only from climate activist groups and civil rights organisations but also from sections of the Conservative party. The Tory MP Sir Charles Walker said he would be voting against the bill, and that its proposals for serious disruption prevention orders were “not the answer”.

The bill reintroduces a number of measures that were knocked out of the police, crime, sentencing and courts bill when it was examined by the Lords in December. That law, which was explicitly targeted at XR and Black Lives Matter protests, gave police a range of new powers to control public assemblies.

In a briefing this week, the civil rights organisation Liberty described the public order bill as “a staggering attack on our right to protest”.

Its director, Martha Spurrier, said: “Protest is a fundamental right, not a gift from the state. But our right to protest continues to be attacked by a government intent on making it harder for people to stand up for the causes they believe in.”

She said the bill was part of a range of new measures, including restrictions to judicial review and the introduction of voter ID that were “limiting people’s ability to make their voices heard”.

“The threat of the public order bill must not be underestimated,” Spurrier said. “From protests taking place in opposition to the government’s Rwanda plan, to gatherings in Parliament Square raising the alarm about the cost of living crisis, to people protesting for racial justice and striking for climate justice, it is clear that protest remains at the heart of how we stand up to power and we must fight to defend it.”

Cameron Ford, a spokesperson for Just Stop Oil who has been arrested many times, said the measures would not stop activists continuing their disruptive protest campaign. Supporters of the group have blocked roads in central London every day so far this month.

“Until they put the death sentence as the repercussions for what we’re doing, it won’t deter us,” Ford said. “Because the alternative to us not getting the change that we’re demanding is death.”

Using glue or other equipment to attach themselves to roads and street furniture has been a key tactic of Just Stop Oil and its antecedent Insulate Britain, for which Ford was also a spokesperson.

Addressing the 51-week sentences proposed for those taking similar action, he said: “The UK has a history of really fierce grassroots civil resistance. We’re used to that, we know how to stand up against these sorts of things, and we will continue no matter what the law is.”

Just Stop Oil’s protests have infuriated ministers, the rightwing press and many members of the public. On Tuesday, as two activists climbed the Queen Elizabeth Bridge where the M25 crosses the Thames, stopping motor traffic, Suella Braverman, the then home secretary, accused “Guardian-reading, tofu-eating wokerati” of being behind the protests.

Extinction Rebellion, the climate protest group that three years ago pioneered many of the tactics currently in use, said the government was playing “a losing game” by trying to suppress the voices of the “scientists and everyday people that make up the climate movement”.

Nuala Lam, a spokesperson for XR, said: “Everyday people are way ahead of politicians and they’re prepared to face the challenges the climate crisis presents. People continue to step up and take civil disobedience despite attempts to criminalise their right to protest.”

Some activists have warned that increasing criminalisation of accountable non-violent direct action would lead to more people acting clandestinely. Marion Walker, a spokesperson for the Tyre Extinguishers, said: “In the face of increasing global repression of climate activists, we’ve only seen direct action soar.

“Ultimately, no law is going to stop us doing what’s needed. We want to see a global movement of climate saboteurs take on polluting infrastructure everywhere, whether that’s SUVs, pipelines, coal plants. We see ourselves as part of that, as offering an introduction into that world. No law will deter people from taking this action, because it’s increasingly clear it’s necessary.”


Damien Gayle

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Just Stop Oil calls one-week halt to protests in hope of action from No 10
Campaigners say they will revive campaign without pledge from Boris Johnson to end new fossil fuel projects

Damien Gayle

19, Apr, 2022 @1:18 PM

Article image
Huge UK public support for direct action to protect environment – poll
Exclusive: 66% of people back nonviolent action and 75% support solar power being installed on farmland

Damian Carrington Environment editor

24, Oct, 2022 @3:00 PM

Article image
State response to Just Stop Oil must be within the law, says Sadiq Khan
London mayor’s demand comes as civil rights campaigners criticise PM’s promise to increase police powers

Damien Gayle

02, Dec, 2022 @5:46 PM

Article image
Insulate Britain and Just Stop Oil vow to continue disruptive action
Commitment to ‘civil resistance’ comes after Extinction Rebellion said it would prioritise ‘relationships over roadblocks’

Damien Gayle

02, Jan, 2023 @5:23 PM

Article image
‘Criminalising our right to protest’: green groups’ anger over public order bill
Measures in Queen’s speech would have outlawed protests that won votes for women and legalisation of unions, say critics

Helena Horton Environment reporter

10, May, 2022 @1:50 PM

Article image
Climate protesters gather in Parliament Square as fossil fuel deadline passes
Four days of peaceful activism led by Extinction Rebellion fail to elicit pledge from government to ban new oil and gas projects

Sandra Laville

24, Apr, 2023 @5:08 PM

Article image
More than 30 climate activists behind bars in UK during Cop27
Just Stop Oil campaigners were held on remand after charges relating to M25 protests

Damien Gayle

21, Nov, 2022 @2:42 PM

Article image
Climate diplomacy is hopeless, says author of How to Blow Up a Pipeline
Andreas Malm says he has no hope in ‘dominant classes’, and urges more radical approach to climate activism

Damien Gayle

21, Apr, 2023 @11:58 AM

Article image
Earth Day climate action organisers promise family-friendly protests
Coalition of groups behind Big One demonstration intend focus on collective expression, with disobedience on hold

Bibi van der Zee and Damien Gayle

20, Apr, 2023 @5:49 PM

Article image
Keir Starmer backs stiff sentences for climate protesters who block roads
Labour leader also reaffirms pledge of no new oil or gas licences as activists cake King Charles waxwork

Damien Gayle

24, Oct, 2022 @12:16 PM