Keir Starmer has said he would continue with Tory plans for stiff sentences for climate protesters who block roads, despite reiterating Labour’s pledge for no new oil and gas licences, as two Just Stop Oil activists caked a waxwork of King Charles.
Starmer’s pledge to impose a moratorium on new oil and gas projects puts Labour policy in line with the demands of Just Stop Oil, whose supporters have been blocking roads and carrying out other protests in central London every day this month.
Hours after Starmer’s comments on Monday morning, two supporters of the group stepped over the rope barrier separating the public from a waxwork of King Charles at Madam Tussauds in London, before smearing its face with chocolate cake.
In comments circulated shortly after by Just Stop Oil, the pair, Eilidh McFadden, 20, from Glasgow, and Tom Johnson, 29, a painter-decorator from Sunderland, said: “The science is clear. The demand is simple. Just stop new oil and gas. It’s a piece of cake.”
The action is the latest iconoclastic protest staged by climate activists. The Friday before last, Just Stop Oil made headlines around the world when two of its supporters hurled tomato soup on to Vincent Van Gogh’s Sunflowers in the National Gallery in London. On Sunday, two activists with Letze Generation or Last Generation flung mashed potato on to Claude Monet’s Les Meules or Haystacks, in Potsdam, Germany. Both paintings were behind glass and were undamaged.
But Just Stop Oil’s most disruptive actions so far in October have been on the streets. Crews of activists have blocked some of central London’s busiest roads every day this month, enraging politicians, rightwing papers and many members of the public.
Speaking on LBC, Starmer confirmed that a Labour government would back proposals to introduce stiff sentences for people who protest by blocking roads.
Similar proposals, currently before parliament as part of a new public order bill, would introduce 51-week sentences for “lock on” protests – in which activists use chains, locks, glue or other equipment to attach themselves to immovable objects or each other – a regular tactic of climate protesters. The bill also includes new offences of interfering with key national infrastructure, obstructing major transport works and causing serious disruption by tunnelling.
In a phone-in discussion with Nick Ferrari, Starmer said that in his previous role as director of public prosecutions “we always had laws available” to prosecute people taking direct action. But he added: “What we were pushing for in that was longer sentences for those who were gluing themselves to roads and motorways, because that’s where you are putting lives at risk. We didn’t get that through, but that’s what I wanted.”
Despite his opposition to the climate activists’ tactics, elsewhere in the interview Starmer promised there would be no new oil and gas licences granted under Labour as Just Stop Oil demands.
“We accept there’s got to be a transition, so where there is oil and gas already being yielded that needs to continue as part of the transition, but no new sites, no new fields to be opened,” he said.
“We need to transition to renewables. We can do it … we can double our onshore wind, we can triple our solar energy and we can quadruple our offshore wind – and the sooner we do that, the better. I do think that new nuclear, as well, and hydrogen are part of the equation.”
The uproar over the latest actions by Just Stop Oil and its sister group in Germany comes as another report reiterated that there can be no new oil and gas projects if the world is to stay within 1.5C of global heating.
The report, by the International Institute of Sustainable Development, said there was a “large consensus” across research that “developing any new oil and gas fields is incompatible with limiting warming to 1.5C” above pre-industrial levels. It also said global oil and gas production must be slashed by at least 65% by 2050 to remain within 1.5C, identified by the Paris agreement as the limit to avoid the worst impacts of the climate crisis.
The findings echo the International Energy Agency’s conclusion that any new oil and gas fields are incompatible with its 1.5C pathway.