Climate protesters blocking roads and buildings could face prison terms and unlimited fines, the British government said on Tuesday.
The announcement came after the activist group Insulate Britain (IB) blocked a number of motorways in the past three weeks, disregarding injunctions against their tactics; and after Extinction Rebellion (XR) blockaded a private airport on Saturday.
The apologetic yet adamant activists ran in front of moving traffic and glued themselves to motorways, demanding the government to insulate homes across the UK to help cut carbon emissions.
The Home Office said it plans to introduce “a suite of amendments” to the Police, Crime, Sentencing, and Courts (PCSC) Bill, which went through its process in the House of Commons and is currently in committee stage in the House of Lords.
The government will propose “a new offence of interfering with the operation of key infrastructure—including motorways, railways, and airports—where the impact will affect the distribution of essential goods, such as fuel and medicine,” the Home Office said in a statement.
The new offence is expected to carry a maximum sentence of an unlimited fine, a year imprisonment, or both.
The Home Office said the offence will also cover media printing premises, in light of the “significant disruption caused by Extinction Rebellion protesters to newspaper deliveries last year.”
New offences will also be introduced to target the obstruction of construction and the act of locking-on and going equipped to lock-on—common tactics of both groups—carrying a maximum penalty of an unlimited fine, six months’ imprisonment, or both.
The same maximum penalty will apply to those obstructing highways. The government said the current maximum penalty of £1,000 ($1,367) fine doesn’t “reflect the serious disruption caused by these dangerous actions.”
Activists from IB and XR have often attached themselves to roads, trains, buildings, other objects, or each other to frustrate police effort to remove them, with glues and “increasingly sophisticated” locking-on devices.
The government also plans to give police new stop and search powers allowing officers to seize such devices, and to give courts new powers to target individuals “with a history of disruption.”
This isn’t the first time the government introduces new legislation targeting the climate activists. While introducing the PCSC Bill, the government included new measures limiting the noise level of those protesting, in response to disruptive protests by XR and Black Lives Matter activists.
Announcing the new measures on Tuesday, ministers said the activists had “crossed the line.”
Speaking on Sky News, policing minister Kit Malthouse said, “While we obviously all value the right to protest, there is a difference between causing disruption and causing damage. We believe that these protesters and some of the others that we’ve seen in the last couple of years have crossed the line between exercising their right but also their responsibility towards the rest of us, and something needs to be done.”
Speaking at the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester, Home Secretary Priti Patel told party members, “It is because of our commitment to putting the needs of the hard-working, often silent, majority first that I will not tolerate so called eco-warriors trampling over our way of life and draining police resources.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson branded the activists “irresponsible crusties,” and said they have been “doing considerable damage to the economy.”
In a statement emailed to The Epoch Times, IB said they “remain more fearful” of losing the country than they do of the Home Secretary.
“The law can be changed, punishments increased, our savings raided, we face being imprisoned. But shooting the messenger can never destroy the message: our country is facing the greatest risk ever and our government is failing us,” the statement reads, adding they believe we will “face economic chaos and the breakdown of law and order in a matter of years.”
IB said government ministers will go down in history as “cowards” and “traitors,” and that the group is “not going anywhere because there is nowhere else to go.”
Extinction Rebellion didn’t respond to The Epoch Times request for comment at the time of publishing.
PA contributed to this report.