POLITICS
14/03/2021 11:43 GMT | Updated 14/03/2021 12:33 GMT

Labour To Oppose Government Crackdown On Protests In Commons Vote

Policing of Sarah Everard vigil "should be a red warning light that the UK government should not be rushing through divisive laws”.

Labour will oppose proposed laws to crack down on protests in a Commons vote on Tuesday amid widespread anger of the police handling of a vigil in memory of Sarah Everard.

The legislation, which MPs will start debating on Monday, includes provisions to crack down on protests if they are too noisy and seeks to toughen the punishment for people who damage statues.

But shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said images of women being held on the ground by officers “should be a red warning light that the UK government should not be rushing through divisive laws to crack down on the right to protest”.

The party had previously planned to abstain on the legislation by Thomas-Symonds said:  “Labour will be voting against the police, crime, sentencing and courts bill”.

He went on: “The tragic events of this week, and the powerful calls for change across the country to address the violence against women and girls, must be a powerful call to unite for change.

“We are calling on the government to drop its poorly thought-out proposals and instead work with Labour to legislate to address violence against women and girls and other issues such as tougher sentences for attacks on frontline workers.”

Shadow justice secretary David Lammy said the legislation was “a mess” which “could lead to harsher penalties for damaging a statue than for attacking a woman”.

“The tragic death of Sarah Everard has instigated a national demand for action to tackle violence against women,” he said.

“This is no time to be rushing through poorly thought-out measures to impose disproportionate controls on free expression and the right to protest.”

Meanwhile, Labour frontbencher Louise Haigh said it was “implausible” that home secretary Priti Patel did not speak to the Metropolitan Police about how they would handle the vigil on Clapham Common on Saturday.

Patel reportedly ordered the police to “get stuck in” when Extinction Rebellion blockaded printing presses last year.

Haigh said: “Removing (Met Police commissioner) Cressida Dick doesn’t remove the fact that we have a home secretary who doesn’t believe in the right to protest.”

Home Office minister Victoria Atkins defended the proposed legislation, arguing that the law needed updating to respond to “very disruptive” protests like those staged by XR.

Atkins told BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show: “I do just want to draw a very firm distinction between the peaceful vigil that yesterday was and was intended to be and some of the very, very disruptive protests that we’ve seen in the last few years, where people have been glueing themselves to buildings and gates and so on and stopping members of the public from going about their business.

“There is a real distinction here and the bill tomorrow is very much looking at that latter category.”

She added: “We absolutely support and recognise the right to peaceful protest.”