'Kill the Bill' protest: Boris Johnson accused of 'turning UK into authoritarian state'

15 January 2022, 16:55 | Updated: 15 January 2022, 17:06

Protesters gathered in mass to protest about the Government's police, crime and sentencing bill
Protesters gathered in mass to protest about the Government's police, crime and sentencing bill. Picture: Alamy

By Megan Hinton

"Kill the Bill" protests are underway across England as activists call on the House of Lords to reject the police, crime, sentencing and courts bill.

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Demonstrations are taking place on the streets of cities including London, Bristol, Coventry, Newcastle, Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield, Plymouth on Saturday.

The action comes ahead of a crucial vote on the bill by peers on Monday.

Protesters describe it as a draconian crackdown on the right to assembly, freedom of expression and other civil liberties.

In London, many hundreds marched from Holborn towards Parliament Square in Westminster, chanting "kill the bill" and carrying banners reading "defend the right to protest" and "we will not be silenced".

Members of a wide range of social, racial and environmental justice groups joined the rally, demanding that peers stop the bill from becoming law.

Ben Hancock, 70, from London, said: "The measures are completely draconian really, basically rights will be taken away from anybody to protest."

"I mean, effectively we're going to be reduced to a state similar to Russia."

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Labour MP's took to social media to encourage activists to join protests this weekend sharing videos on how activists can help to stop the bill.

MP for Norwich South, Clive Lewis said: "While he parties at Downing Street, Boris Johnson is turning this country into an authoritarian state."

Labour MP for York Central, Rachael Maskell also wrote on Twitter: "Our freedom to protest is under attack.

"The policing bill would throw protestors into prison for doing exactly the same as the Suffragettes did.

"For all those who fought for our freedoms, throughout history, we must Kill the Bill."

The Bill would put protesters at risk of lengthy prison sentences and hefty fines for actions that cause "serious annoyance", which could be done just by making noise.

It would expand stop and search powers, and new laws against residing on land without authorisation with a vehicle would effectively criminalise gypsy, Roma and traveller communities.

Amendments added to the bill by the Government in the House of Lords in November make obstructing major transport works a criminal offence and would equip police with the power to ban named people from demonstrating.

Sue, a 62-year-old who would only give her first name and who had travelled to the protest as part of Extinction Rebellion from Godalming, Surrey, said: "And I believe that some of the provisions in that bill will severely limit the sorts of things that we're able to do to protest."

Tied to a fellow protester, she went on to say: "So we won't, for instance, be able to be together like this holding hands, or, or even tying ourselves together.

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"There are many, many things that we won't be able to do and really, protests will just be a thing of the past.

"And so many of the the freedoms that we have in this country have been gained through protest.

"Not through just people being quiet about it, and people in power deciding that they'll give freedoms to people, but because people have come out on the streets and made a noise and made a protest.

"And I want to still be able to do that, I want my children to be able to do that."

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Terry Matthews, 69, from south London added: "I think we're facing a really vitriolic attack on our rights to protest and our freedoms to show our dissatisfaction with the status of the Government and the country.

"And it's a really dangerous step to try to take."

But the government has justified changes, stating recent tactics used by protesters has "caused a disproportionate impact on the hardworking majority seeking to go about their everyday lives".

Stating: “The measures in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill will improve the police’s ability to manage such protests, enabling them to balance the rights of protesters against the rights of others to go about their daily business, and to dedicate their resources to keeping the public safe."

The Home Office added the disruptive and "incredibly dangerous" protesters they have also been a drain on public funds.

It comes after the Met police revealed the force had spent £50 million since 2019 policing Extinction Rebellion protests.