Boris Johnson is to rush through laws to stop protesters from blocking motorways, as he declares his determination to defend the interests of the ‘law-abiding majority’.
Under the planned new legislation, activists who bring vital transport arteries to a standstill will face up to six months in prison or unlimited fines.
The move follows complaints from the police that they have lacked sufficient powers to stop eco-protesters from the Insulate Britain group from bringing some of the country’s arterial roads such as the M25, M1 and M4 to a standstill.
Some drivers have been stranded in gridlock while taking relatives to hospital or transporting vital supplies.
Boris Johnson (pictured) is to rush through laws to stop protesters from blocking motorways, as he declares his determination to defend the interests of the ‘law-abiding majority’
The Prime Minister said last night: ‘This Government will always stand on the side of the law-abiding majority and ensure the toughest penalties possible for criminals who deliberately bring major roads to a standstill.
‘We will give the police the powers they need to stop their reckless and selfish behaviour.
‘The right to protest is sacrosanct, but there is no right to inflict chaos and misery on people trying to go about their lives.’
Mr Johnson outlined his hardline stance as he arrived at the Tory Party conference last night against the backdrop of the separate road chaos caused by the fuel crisis, which has led to a critical shortage of petrol on forecourts in London and the South East.
With almost 200 troops prepared to swing into action to help alleviate the situation from tomorrow, the Petrol Retailers Association reported a ‘distinct improvement’ in the situation across much of the country due to the ‘restraint’ of drivers.
However, shortages appeared to be worsening in London and the South East.
Under the legislation, activists who bring vital transport arteries to a standstill will face up to six months in prison. Pictured: A protester occupying an M25 roundabout is detained
It comes after the separate road chaos caused by the fuel crisis, which has led to a critical shortage of petrol. Pictured: Activists block the road near to the junction 3 of the M25
The move follows complaints from the police that they have lacked sufficient powers to stop eco-protesters. Pictured: Protesters from Insulate Britain block the A20 in Kent
As Conservative delegates poured into Manchester for the conference:
- Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi condemned Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner for describing Tories as ‘racist’ and ‘scum’, telling the MoS that such ‘demonising’ language was ‘dangerous’, citing the 2016 murder of Labour MP Jo Cox as an example of the risks of incendiary speech;
- Mr Zahawi also said that Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer had shown ‘terrible judgment’ by calling for a tax raid on private schools;
- Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries prepared to throw down the gauntlet to the BBC over its impartiality as it emerged one of the Corporation’s former senior bosses has joined the controversial Chinese tech firm Huawei;
- The MoS learned that three Labour MPs are considering defecting to the Conservatives after becoming disillusioned by Sir Keir’s leadership, while allies of Manchester mayor Andy Burnham said the Labour leader had a year to improve the party’s poll ratings or face being ousted;
- Mr Johnson faced calls from Labour to apologise after telling the BBC to ‘never mind’ cancer outcomes and life expectancy – but to ‘look at wage growth’ instead.
A former Tory Cabinet Minister criticised industry bosses for demanding the return of cheap foreign labour rather than boosting the skills and wages of British workers post-Brexit.
Writing in the MoS, David Jones said: ‘The Remain lobby is both angry and influential, even now. The fuel crisis is an all-too-useful shroud – and they are waving it with vigour’;
lThe Cabinet Office launched a leak inquiry into how selective briefings from a meeting about fuel supplies found their way to ITV News, stoking the fuel crisis, as the MoS revealed last week.
The Government has accused the Road Haulage Association of doing so to force Ministers to let in more lower paid foreign workers, which the RHA has flatly denied.
Home Secretary Priti Patel will this week unveil the crackdown on motorway protests, with tougher sentences introduced by amending the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill.
While National Highways has been granted injunctions to prevent people from obstructing roads, officers cannot arrest people for flouting the court orders because it is a civil not a criminal matter.
The new laws are expected to be on the statute book by the turn of the year.
Mr Johnson outlined his hardline stance as he arrived at the Tory Party conference last night. Pictured: Protesters from Insulate Britain block the A20 in Kent on September 24
Protesters from climate campaign ‘Insulate Britain’, an offshoot of Extinction Rebellion (XR), block the A41 roundabout at Junction 20 of the M25 London Orbital Motorway
Some drivers have been stranded in gridlock while transporting vital supplies. Pictured: Protester is arrested after attaching herself to A1M junction near Welwyn Garden City
An offence of ‘obstructing a highway’ already exists, but carries only a maximum fine of £1,000.
The proposed increased penalties will mean police can remand protesters in custody after charging them, and create a criminal record for them.
Insulate Britain – which is demanding the Government pay for all homes in the country to be insulated by 2030 – has brought major roads to a standstill with ten protests in less than three weeks. Around 450 arrests have been made.
A senior Government source last night said: ‘We can’t have Labour councillors and crusties making life hell for mothers on the school run and van drivers making vital deliveries.
‘The law does not currently reflect the serious disruption caused by these dangerous actions.’
Ms Patel said: ‘The right to protest is a fundamental principle of our democracy but we will not tolerate guerrilla tactics that obstruct people going about their day-to-day business.
‘That is why we will increase the maximum penalty for disrupting a motorway to an unlimited fine or up to six months in prison – or both.
‘While the Labour Party stand on the side of these so-called ‘activists’, the Conservative Party will always back the law-abiding, hard-working majority in this country.’