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Police attempt to clear Extinction Rebellion protest camps in London | Environment


Police have begun attempting to clear Extinction Rebellion protest camps from around Westminster as they imposed a section 14 order banning demonstrations across central London.

Arrests were made under the order from early on Tuesday morning, beginning at the movement’s westernmost encampments on Millbank and moving into Whitehall in the late afternoon, where hundreds of tents had been pitched outside Downing Street.

Officers gradually pushed their way up Whitehall, refusing to allow anyone bearing XR insignia through their lines and trying to filter them out of passing tourists and government workers.

As a heavy downpour began, police officers in black overalls marched into the Whitehall camp and began snatching tents, snapping tent poles and guy ropes, and folding them up and carrying them away. XR activists remained non-violent and chanted at officers: “Police, we love you. We’re doing this for your children.”

By 6.30pm police had largely cleared the Whitehall camp, although several dozen people remained, locked together in tents or under tarpaulins refusing to move. The road was closed and even people unaffiliated with XR were refused access to Parliament Square. Police riot vans with lights flashing inched their way forward as the remaining protesters blocked the road.

The UK group of Extinction Rebellion has three core demands:

1) Tell the truth
The government must tell the truth about the scale of the ecological crisis by declaring a climate emergency, “working with other groups and institutions to communicate the urgent need for change”.

2) Net zero emissions by 2025
The UK must drastically cut its greenhouse gas emissions, hitting net zero by 2025.

3) Citizens’ assembly
The government must create a citizens’ assembly to hear evidence and devise policy to tackle the climate crisis. Citizens’ assemblies bring together ordinary people to investigate, discuss and make recommendations on how to respond, in this case, to the ecological emergency.

In the US activists have added a further demand: “A just transition that prioritises the most vulnerable and indigenous sovereignty [and] establishes reparations and remediation led by and for black people, indigenous people, people of colour and poor communities for years of environmental injustice.”

Matthew Taylor

Before the camp was cleared, Hazel McGee, 76, said: “At the moment I’m locked into an iron tube because I wish to stay in Whitehall. I’m making a statement about the most important thing in the world now, which is that we start acting to prevent climate change, and in particular getting to tipping points where we can’t turn back.”

McGee, a former editor of an astronomy journal, now retired, added: “Boris Johnson and the current government are doing nothing. They are subsidising use of fossil fuels, subsidising the oil industry and preventing renewable energy becoming what it must be, which is the way of making civilisation work.”

She said she was planning to refuse to cooperate with police in the hope that her arrest would help to overwhelm their ability to deal with the protests.

Lou Korda, 49, lying nearby with activists holding a tarpaulin over her to keep her dry, said she did not want to give up the Whitehall site. “We need to take action,” she said.

Dinah Taylor, 66, who was locked together with Korda, said: “I’ve been doing it all my life. All my voluntary work has been in conservation and in education about the environment, and it’s got to the point that things are getting worse. The government is not listening to us and I’ve got to use my body because there’s nothing else I can do.”

Police tried to move in on protesters camping on Horseferry Road. Activists on the scene said it was still “holding fast” at about 5pm.

The Metropolitan police said in a statement: “Any assembly linked to the Extinction Rebellion ‘autumn uprising’ … who wish to continue with their assembly must go to Trafalgar Square and only assemble in the pedestrianised area around Trafalgar Column. The condition does not have a time limit.”

The force appears to have modified its use of the tactic. In April, orders were imposed on certain protest sites individually over the course of several days rather than across the city all at once. Officers were also not reading the order put individually to activists, instead shouting the order across crowds and telling people to consider themselves warned.

At 5.30pm, the Met announced it had made 212 arrests, making a total of 531 over the two days of protest so far, it is understood.

Earlier on Tuesday, Mike Schwarz, a solicitor at Bindmans, a law firm that specialises in protest cases, said the number of cases meant he and his colleagues were “reaching capacity and risk not providing a quality service”.

Even as they fought to keep hold of their central London protest sites, XR activists were beginning to prepare for their next phase of action, a sit-in protest at London City airport planned to last at least three days.

In a statement circulated through social media, the group said: “The plan is to do a Hong Kong-style occupation of the terminal building, lying, sitting or gluing-on in front of the departure and arrivals gates. If we fail to get inside we’ll blockade the space outside the doors. As this poses no risk to the airfield safety itself the action is non-violent, safe and open to everyone.”


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