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Plans to Bar Politicians from Meeting Palestine Solidarity Campaign and Climate Activists are “Dangerous and Authoritarian” Say MPs

If MPs in other countries were barred from meeting civil society groups, the regimes would be “condemned and investigated” Dawn Butler told Byline Times

People attend a Day of Action For Palestine in Trafalgar Square in solidarity with the people of Palestine and to demand a ceasefire in the Israel Hamas war. Photo: Stephen Chung / Alamy Live News

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Government figures are on the brink of launching even more anti-protest measures, with a statement by Levelling Up secretary Michael Gove into extremism expected in the coming weeks. 

It follows an ‘urgent’ speech by PM Rishi Sunak on Friday on extremism, following the election of Workers’ Party MP George Galloway in Rochdale. Galloway made opposing the war in Gaza a key plank of his campaign, and his party has been wrongly branded “Islamist” by former PM Liz Truss.

According to reports in the Daily Mail and The Times, the Government is now planning a review to widen the scope of what constitutes extremism – by targeting groups that are perceived as “undermining British values”. 

One measure under consideration involves revoking the visas of individuals who disseminate hate speech within the UK. But the reports also suggest Ministers are mulling barring Members of Parliament from affiliating with certain legal protest groups, such as the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, or climate campaigns like Just Stop Oil and Extinction Rebellion. 

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PSC is known for its vast weekly pro-Palestine rallies in London and across the country but has faced constant attack from right-wing papers for allegedly failing to deal with a handful of antisemitic attendees.

The proposal to bar MPs working with some protest groups has been put forward by John Woodcock, a former Labour MP and now the Government’s independent adviser on political violence. (Woodcock quit the Labour Party in 2018 under Jeremy Corbyn, while facing sexual harassment allegations he strongly denied). 

Speaking to reporters on Monday (4th March), the PM’s spokesman would not “comment on individual groups” but did not deny the reports about fresh anti-protest measures. He added: “We will keep under review action needed to tackle examples of unacceptable behaviour.” 

The move would involve party leaders adopting a strict stance against MPs who support groups involved in so-called disruptive demonstrations, or those which allegedly ignore instances of racism. It is a call in effect targeted at Labour, as Conservative MPs do not typically associate with PSC or direct action-based climate groups. 

The Labour Party faces internal pressure regarding its stance on the mooted restrictions, particularly in relation to the Palestine Solidarity Campaign. Left-wing MPs in the Socialist Campaign Group (SCG) have already hit out at the “authoritarian” measures and urged Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer to take a stand against them. 

Palestine Protesters Vow to Keep Marching Despite Fresh Clampdown Threats, as Muslim Council Blasts Islamophobic Rhetoric

Palestine protest organisers believe senior Government officials are placing heavy pressure on police to clamp down on their demonstrations

But some members of Keir Starmer’s frontbench team have also told the Guardian Woodcock’s suggestions should be vigorously rejected. 

Responding to the proposals, Labour backbencher Dawn Butler MP told Byline Times the idea of barring MPs from meeting protest groups was “authoritarian” and “highly inappropriate” given that many of the members may be their constituents.  

“The Conservatives are cynically trying to deflect attention from their own failures and desperately use this time of high tensions for electoral gain. To conflate people’s democratic right to protest with extremists is dangerous and irresponsible. The vast majority of protesters are peaceful; they don’t march because they’ve got nothing else to do, they march because they have to do something,” she said.

Butler noted that if MPs in other countries were barred by their Governments from meeting civil society groups the regimes would be “condemned and investigated”. 

“We need to unite against this creeping authoritarianism and stand up for our hard-won democracy, rights and freedoms – before it is too late. People should ask themselves what else this Government has planned that they want to ensure that the public can not protest,” the London Labour MP added. Other left-wing Labour figures including Clive Lewis also condemned the proposals.

Critics within the party argue that Labour has not adequately addressed the situation in Gaza and warn against the demonisation of pro-Palestinian demonstrators. At a press conference last week, ceasefire protest organisers claimed Gaza activists had been unfairly demonised as extremists. As many leading pro-ceasefire activists are Muslim, PSC believes some of the fierce criticism and outraged coverage is driven by Islamophobia. 

A spokesperson for Extinction Rebellion said: “The real threat to democracy comes from narrow private interests such as the oil companies and banks whose access to politicians is unfettered.

“Our political system should be responding to the strong warnings from scientists that we are on the verge of pushing our planet into a new and inhospitable state. Instead we see private interests being prioritised above the well-being and security of citizens and everything that lives on this planet.”

New guidance issued by the Government and police chiefs last week means police forces will now consider all protests outside politicians’ homes as “intimidatory” and potential harassment. The PM’s spokesman suggested police had until now only been “managing” protests, when they should be “policing them”. 

The Corbyn-backing group Momentum is calling for the Labour Party to pledge to repeal the Conservative Government’s “repressive” laws concerning protest, voter ID and trade unions. 

Do you have a story that needs highlighting? Get in touch by emailing josiah@bylinetimes.com

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Josiah Mortimer also writes the On the Ground column, exclusive to the print edition of Byline Times.

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