Commons session turns to farce as Conservative Deputy Chair suggests all protestors should just stand for election instead, Josiah Mortimer reports

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Eight Just Stop Oil protestors have been arrested in Parliament Square for breaching a protest ban imposed by police – while another five activists were removed from Parliament for disrupting a Metropolitan Police hearing on arrests made at the Coronation. 

It comes after an SNP effort to repeal the Public Order Act was defeated on Tuesday night, with it accusing Labour of giving the controversial anti-protest legislation a “new lease of life”. Keir Starmer’s party abstained en masse on calls to end the “dystopian” protest legislation, the SNP said. 

Not a single Labour MP voted for repeal, in an opposition day debate from the Scottish party that was dubbed a “stunt” by the Labour frontbench. 

On Wednesday, the Home Affairs Committee grilled senior policing figures Matt Twist, Temporary Assistant Commissioner at the Met; and Chris Noble, Chief Constable and protest lead at the National Police Chiefs’ Council.

There have been 67 protests in London since the Public Order Act was passed, Twist claimed, with very few involving arrests under the new law.

“There is a strong presumption in favour of the right to protest,” he said – despite eight peaceful Republic campaigners being detained for 16 hours alongside dozens of other campaigners from groups such as Animal Rebellion and Just Stop Oil.

He added that the Mayor of London had been briefed before King Charles’ Coronation that there’d be a “concerted attempt” to disrupt the procession and officers were asked to be “vigilant in dealing with this”.

But SNP MP Alison Thewliss noted that there was no history of Republic using “locking on” devices. Despite this, they were detained for possessing luggage straps that held placards together. 

The Met’s Deputy Commissioner, who also appeared before the committee, made a startling confession that “the whole command team would have been alert to engagement with Republic… We would have been notified and expecting it”.

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For Republic’s CEO, Graham Smith, this raised the question of why the arrests went ahead. The group had liaised with the police for months before the protest. 

Smith told Byline Times: “Being generous here, the Met Police are being disingenuous. Some of the statements they made were clearly false.” 

The Met’s Deputy Commissioner claimed that much of the delay to the activists  being released from cells after 16 hours was due to some of the campaigners only having one solicitor between them. 

But Smith said: “My solicitor said they were there at 1pm, but they were only called in at 6pm. There are lots of questions about why it took so long, and why they detained us for any length of time for a non-custodial offence, with no evidence.”

Officers on the ground on Coronation day did not seem to know what sort of organisation – despite the Home Office writing to the group just days before, and the group being in close liaison with the Met Police and Westminster Council beforehand. 

“On the one hand, they said they had credible intelligence [about disruption],” said Smith. “On the other hand, they claimed they had no idea who we were. They were well aware of who we were. And they did have lots of intelligence – which we provided them. They ignored all that.” 

Vote to Repeal

The SNP’s Opposition Day Debate centred around the Public Order Act which the party claimed has seen rights to democratic protest dramatically curbed. 

But the vote to scrap the legislation fell due to Conservative votes against and Labour abstentions.

A spokesperson for Just Stop Oil claimed that Labour was now “the great appeasers of an illegal and authoritarian regime”.

The SNP’s Home Affairs spokesperson, Alison Thewliss, said: “Labour’s commitment to retaining Tory policy has given the dystopian anti-protest bill a new lease of life, after they refused to support SNP plans to scrap it last night.

“This shameful legislation is one of the most draconian pieces of law to pass through Parliament in recent memory – it’s exactly the type of policy you’d expect to see Labour opposing. Instead they’ve cosied up again with their Tory pals to ensure its future.”

She added: “The question people in Scotland will rightly be asking is: what exactly does Starmer’s Labour Party stand for?”

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Labour’s spokesperson Sarah Jones told the Commons: “Some protests go too far – I make no apologies for saying that. To see a painting splattered with paint: too far. To see ambulances blocked on roads: too far.

“The Labour Party has always stood with the people of this country in saying that such disruptive activities are unacceptable. It is our job as legislators to come up with proposals that solve problems, not create them.”

Defending Labour’s refusal to back repeal of the Act, she said the party was “serious about governing” rather than “political stunts”.

“We refuse to be drawn into the political games of two parties that are paralysed by crises of their own making,” she added, chiding the SNP.

The 56 MPs who voted to repeal the Public Order Act:

  • Hannah Bardell, Scottish National Party
  • Mhairi Black, Scottish National Party
  • Ian Blackford, Scottish National Party
  • Kirsty Blackman, Scottish National Party
  • Deidre Brock, Scottish National Party
  • Alan Brown, Scottish National Party
  • Amy Callaghan, Scottish National Party (proxy vote cast by Brendan O’Hara)
  • Lisa Cameron, Scottish National Party
  • Wendy Chamberlain Liberal Democrat
  • Douglas Chapman, Scottish National Party
  • Joanna Cherry, Scottish National Party
  • Jeremy Corbyn Independent
  • Ronnie Cowan, Scottish National Party
  • Edward Davey Liberal Democrat
  • Martyn Day, Scottish National Party
  • Martin Docherty, Scottish National Party
  • Dave Doogan, Scottish National Party
  • Allan Dorans, Scottish National Party (proxy vote cast by Brendan O’Hara)
  • Jonathan Edwards Independent
  • Margaret Ferrier Independent
  • Stephen Flynn, Scottish National Party
  • Patricia Gibson, Scottish National Party
  • Patrick Grady, Scottish National Party
  • Sarah Green Liberal Democrat
  • Neale Hanvey Alba
  • Drew Hendry, Scottish National Party
  • Wera Hobhouse Liberal Democrat
  • Stewart Hosie, Scottish National Party
  • Christine Jardine Liberal Democrat
  • Ben Lake Plaid Cymru
  • Chris Law, Scottish National Party
  • David Linden, Scottish National Party
  • Caroline Lucas Green
  • Angus MacNeil, Scottish National Party
  • Stewart McDonald, Scottish National Party
  • Stuart McDonald, Scottish National Party
  • Anne McLaughlin, Scottish National Party (proxy vote cast by Brendan O’Hara)
  • John McNally, Scottish National Party
  • Carol Monaghan, Scottish National Party
  • Layla Moran Liberal Democrat
  • Helen Morgan Liberal Democrat
  • Gavin Newlands, Scottish National Party
  • John Nicolson, Scottish National Party (proxy vote cast by Brendan O’Hara)
  • Brendan O’Hara, Scottish National Party
  • Sarah Olney Liberal Democrat
  • Kirsten Oswald, Scottish National Party
  • Liz Saville-Roberts Plaid Cymru
  • Tommy Sheppard, Scottish National Party
  • Alyn Smith, Scottish National Party
  • Chris Stephens, Scottish National Party
  • Jamie Stone Liberal Democrat
  • Alison Thewliss, Scottish National Party
  • Owen Thompson, Scottish National Party
  • Claudia Webbe Independent
  • Philippa Whitford, Scottish National Party
  • Pete Wishart, Scottish National Party
  • Tellers: Marion Fellows,, Scottish National Party; Peter Grant,, Scottish National Party

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