Damien Gayle and Jamie Grierson
Wed, 12 October 2022 at 3:48 pm
Supporters of Insulate Britain have joined Just Stop Oil protesters on the streets of London, as the chief of the Metropolitan police said daily protests by climate activists had yet to reach a legal threshold of causing “major disruption” required for the force to shut them down.
Just after 11am on Wednesday, about two dozen members of the group, which shot to fame last autumn with a series of blockades of major London roads, walked into the road outside parliament, sat down and glued themselves to the ground.
They defied tight crowd control in Parliament Square, with officers blocking pedestrians from crossing roads, to time their protest to coincide with Liz Truss arriving to attend prime minister’s questions.
Liam Norton, Insulate Britain’s spokesperson, was in handcuffs by the time the Guardian arrived on the scene. He said that despite the group’s demand for a programme to insulate Britain’s homes being vindicated by an escalating cost of living crisis, not enough had been done to answer their call.
“We’re back on the streets because we put forward this policy a year ago [and] there is absolutely no intention from this government to fulfil a national programme of home insulation and retrofit,” Norton, an electrician from London, said.
“At the time what we were saying is it’s going to provide hundreds of thousands of proper meaningful jobs, boost the economy, the Office of National Statistics said 8,500 people froze to death in their homes each year as they can’t afford to heat their homes. That’s only going to get worse as we’ve got this cost of living crisis.”
Insulate Britain’s return to the streets is part of a month-long campaign to “occupy Westminster”, called by Just Stop Oil, a successor group to Insulate Britain that began this year with blockades of fossil fuel distribution terminals.
Protesters, who used superglue to stick their hands to the asphalt, were able to halt traffic outside the Palace of Westminster for more than two hours. Some were expecting a swift return to jail. Ana Heyatawin, 59, said she was already serving a suspended sentence for climate protests.
“I just want them to know that I’m not going away. They can put me in prison as much as they want – they can even kill me if they want,” she said. “I’m just going to sit here until I get the basic insulation for my flat, and other people do too.”
Heyatawin said there was no distinction now between cost of living campaigning and climate campaigning. “Everything has coalesced, it’s all joined together,” she said. “It’s just about social and climate justice for me now, everything is coalescing.”
Wednesday was the 12th day in a row that activists had answered their call with disruptive protest in central London. The protests have been met with fury on many sides, with bystanders and drivers taking matters into their own hands and dragging activists out of the way. Protests on Tuesday were reported to have blocked emergency services, and stopped an unwell baby from being taken to hospital.
In a tweet, the Metropolitan police said it had deployed protest removal teams to unstick protesters from the road in Parliament Square, and on Horseguards, where a smaller group had staged a blockade at the rear entrance to Truss’s residence in Downing Street.
Earlier, the Met commissioner, Sir Mark Rowley, told the London assembly’s police and crime committee that 200 officers a day were being deployed to the protests – but that they did not yet reach the threshold of “major disruption” required to halt them altogether.
He said officers contact Transport for London, local councils and the emergency services several times a day to check the level of disruption caused.
But, he added: “Over the last 11 days, all of those partners have been of a view that it doesn’t cause serious disruption. As soon as we have evidence of that serious disruption either being crossed as a line, or a good prospect of it being crossed, we’ll start being more assertive with our powers.”
Rowley said there have so far been 338 arrests, mainly supporters of Just Stop Oil, but also a few of Animal Rebellion.
“This has been a really difficult operation over the 11 days so far. And it annoys me how much it’s taking away from policing local communities,” he said.
“In 11 days we have put 2,156 officer days into doing this, so that’s a couple of hundred per day roughly.
“That’s an enormous amount of policing resources that aren’t tackling issues that matter to local communities, aren’t dealing with knife crime, aren’t dealing with violence against women and girls.”