"This is the dictionary definition of fascism": Extinction Rebellion Northampton slams Conservative MP over policing bill comments

"No activist causes disruption because they WANT to, only because we HAVE to. We will not be silenced."

Tuesday, 23rd March 2021, 2:46 pm
Updated Wednesday, 24th March 2021, 9:22 am

The Northampton branch of the national climate change activist movement, Extinction Rebellion, has slammed Northampton MPs for being in favour of a new policing bill which could change the way the UK protests.

On Extinction Rebellion's website, the group describes itself as an international movement that uses non-violent civil disobedience in an attempt to halt mass extinction and minimise the risk of social collapse. The organisation essentially relies on protests to spread its message.

And now the new laws, which are making their way through parliament, could change how Northampton and UK residents protest.

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XR protesters gathered outside Northampton Magistrate's Court in October last year

The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill is a huge document which includes plans on changing the way crime and justice is handled in England and Wales.

What would the new bill change?

The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill has proved extremely controversial, with protests against it taking place around the country.

Under current laws, police are only able to place restrictions on protests if there is a threat of “serious public disorder, serious damage to property or serious disruption to life in the community”.

However, under the new policing bill, police chiefs would be able to set noise limits and impose a start and finish time on protests - these rules would also be applicable to a protest of a single person.

Those who fail to act in accordance with police rules could be issued a £2,500 fine, and police will be able to issue punishments to those who “ought” to have known about restrictions, rather than needing to prove that protesters knew.

The bill would also introduce the crime of “intentionally or recklessly causing public nuisance” with the intention of preventing protest tactics of occupying public spaces.

Following the summer Black Lives Matter protests which saw protesters topple the statue of slave owner Edward Colson, the new maximum punishment for damage to memorials would be increased to a ten year prison sentence.

The bill also proposes a number of other measures, such as introducing life sentences for killer drivers and allowing profoundly deaf people to sit on juries for the first time by allowing a British sign language interpreter into the jury deliberation room.

If the police want to place restrictions on a protest, they generally have to show it may result in "serious public disorder, serious damage to property or serious disruption to the life of the community".

Northampton North MP, Michael Ellis, Northampton South MP, Andrew Lewer, South Northamptonshire MP, Andrea Leadsom, all voted in favour of the bill along with 358 other Conservative MPs.

What did Mr Lewer say about the bill?

Mr Lewer said: “I am in favour of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill that is currently making its way through Parliament. The legislation around the areas of police powers and sentencing need to be updated and in certain areas toughened up to meet current challenges.

"Last summer Extinction Rebellion stopped the printing of some national newspapers, a direct attack on our freedom of speech and freedom of the press.

"They also caused massive disruption in London, by blocking roads and attempting to shut down the city. They blocked ambulances getting to hospital and defaced statues and war memorials. This was unacceptable and this bill seeks to redress these tactics and bring the people responsible to account."

Extinction Rebellion Northampton's response

"Extinction Rebellion Northampton is fiercely against the new policing bill and its clear violation of our democratic right to peaceful protest under the Human Rights act 1998.

"It is of no surprise to us that Mr Lewer would mention us in his efforts to garner support for this bill, as he has made no effort to engage in conversation with us since our formation in 2019, and he therefore has no understanding of the humanity and peacefulness of our rebels.

"We are a movement made up of everyday Northamptonians - essential workers, tradesmen, students, retirees, religious and non-religious people, young and older people, not the “extremists” or “tree huggers” that the Prime Minister and the conservative government like to paint us as.

"Indeed, the only thing we are “extreme” about, is our extreme fear for the future of our children and the Earth if we don’t tackle the Climate Crisis immediately.

"The policing bill uses deliberately vague language to give police ultimate power against government opposition - this is the dictionary definition of fascism.

"To think that someone could receive 10 years in prison for “causing a nuisance” under this bill is obscene. There are harsher punishments proposed for individuals playing samba drums outside Parliament than for the violent crimes, including rape and manslaughter.

"Interestingly, you could receive a higher sentence for throwing the Edward Colston statue in a river than for throwing a real human being in the river. The bill clearly panders to those who oppose societal reform and is intent on upholding the very establishment that is killing us."

Extinction Rebellion Northampton said its members "did not stop the printing press" last summer, which was in reply to Mr Lewer's comment.

The XR spokesman said: "This comment shows the complete lack of understanding by Mr Lewer of the nature of a self-organising-system. We do support the actions of rebels who take action against media corruption and we join them in demanding that media corporations tell the truth on the severity of the climate crisis.

"It is of no surprise that mainstream media is dominated by an attitude of ignorance towards the science that proves the urgency of taking action on the Climate Crisis, given that the billionaires who operate the MSM are directly linked with the fossil fuel industry.

"It is not an “attack on the press” to demand the truth, rather it’s a statement that we, the people, will not tolerate the lies. Northampton has a proud history of peaceful protest, and history shows us that peaceful protest is disruptive by its very nature.

"No positive change ever occurred through protest without disruption in some form. Stonewall, the Civil Rights Movement, the Suffragettes - these are all examples of disruptive protests which the world now looks upon favourably.

"No activist causes disruption because they WANT to, only because we HAVE to. We will not be silenced."

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