Demonstrations of more than two people are to be banned during the month-long lockdown in England. Ministers are about to remove an exemption that has allowed protests to take place in the last few months.
Demonstrations to be banned
Priti Patel has briefed chief constables with regards to the enforcement of the national measures to slow the spread of Covid across England.
Under the new national lockdown, which will be enforced from Thursday onwards, people can exercise or visit outdoor public places with people they live with or one other person from outside of their household.
New regulations have not been announced yet but in a statement the Home Office said that all restrictions will apply to protests too, insisting that any gathering “risks spreading the disease”.
Under the previous “rule of six” introduced by the prime minister in the late summer to combat increasing cases of Covid, protests were exempt if they were Covid-secure.
Protests will not be formally forbidden in the new regulations, but the previous exemption, which allowed demonstrations under certain circumstances, will be no longer exist as the second lockdown comes into effect.
In the last few days European countries such as Italy and Spain have seen protests in response to additional restrictions being imposed by governments. On Friday, there were violent clashes in Barcelona as people protested against the closure of bars, restaurants and other businesses.
An anti-lockdown protest was also held recently in central London with arrests being made after police forces said that the demonstrators had not complied with the risk assessment and were not following social distancing guidelines.
Adam Wagner, a human rights barrister, described the development as “worrying” on Twitter, adding: “Obviously there is a balance to be struck between preventing the virus and basic right – but with the government using unprecedented executive powers to impose restrictions, protest is hugely important.”
On the other hand, a Home Office spokesperson said: “The right to peaceful protest is one of the cornerstones of our democracy. In these unprecedented circumstances, any gathering risks spreading the disease, leading to more deaths, so it is vital we all play our part in controlling the virus. People must follow the rules on meeting with others, which apply to all gatherings and therefore protests too. As they have done throughout the pandemic, the police and local authorities will engage, explain and encourage people to follow the rules before moving on to enforce the law.”
The Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesperson, Alistair Carmichael, added: “We must remain vigilant to ensure that any restrictions on civil liberties are only temporary, and that our rights and freedoms are fully restored once this crisis is over. With Priti Patel in the Home Office, it is understandable why people will be worried. While keeping people safe must be the priority, we cannot allow these rules to become the new normal.”