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Sunak’s ‘Anti-Extremism’ Adviser Demands Protest Bans to Protect Defence and Energy Firms While Working as Lobbyist for Arms and Fossil Fuel Industry Groups

Lord Walney’s proposals would impose an effective ban on certain protest groups while handing police forces the power to outlaw regular Gaza protests

Lord Walney encounters a protest by campaigners against the arms trade as he arrives at the JW Marriott Grosvenor House Hotel for the ADS Annual Dinner. Photo: Mark Kerrison/Alamy

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The Government’s so-called ‘independent’ adviser on domestic extremism has singled out defence companies and energy providers for protections through draconian new anti-protest measures – while himself being a paid lobbyist for organisations representing arms and fossil fuel giants.

John Woodcock – now known as Lord Walney – states in a new Government commissioned review of protest groups that “Defence companies and energy providers that are vital to local economies, national security and resilience are being particularly targeted by extreme protest groups” adding that “they are fringe groups with few supporters yet are causing significant damage. “Far too little is in place to support businesses and industries that are impacted by disruption or targeted by extreme activists blocking their premises and causing criminal damage.”

He calls for the Government to consider bringing in new measures allowing businesses to sue protest organisers for damages on the grounds of ‘disruption’ caused to their business.

“Defence companies and energy providers that are vital to local economies, national security and resilience are being particularly targeted by extreme protest groups. They are fringe groups with few supporters yet are causing significant damage”, he states.

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“The Government should consider ways to ensure increased resilience of supply for defence manufacturers and energy providers whose operations are being disrupted by illegal protest. This could include setting a protective buffer zone around certain sites or expediting injunctions on certain protestors not to enter such a Zone,” the former Labour MP writes. 

As reported by Byline Times last week, Woodcock’s own House of Lords register interest declarations reveals that, among other roles, Lord Walney is:

Lord Walney even mentions BP by name in his review, critically writing: “Since the submission of this report, a new UK-based protest group identifying itself as Energy Embargo for Palestine forced the British Museum to close. Its leadership published a statement on the leftwing Jacobin website demanding the museum sever ties with BP after Israel granted the company gas exploration licences off the coast of Gaza. A banner displayed by the group read ‘Sponsored by BP=Sponsored by Colonial Genocide’.”

The former Labour MP does not mention his business interests in the report.

The Conservative Government adviser also visited Israel in January this year, funded by Elnet, an NGO promoting cooperation between Europe and Israel. It was founded in 2007 as a European pro-Israel advocacy group, to counter “widespread criticism of Israel in Europe”.

According to NGO Action on Armed Violence, Purpose Defence Coalition member Leonardo “equips Israel with Aermacchi M-346 aircraft and parts for Apache attack helicopters” while the “company’s site in Edinburgh is responsible for producing the laser targeting system used in F-35 fighter jets”.

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Walney also calls for new powers to force protest groups to pay towards policing of their own protests and for police forces to be able to restrict the “frequency” of protests on the grounds of costs.

Tim Crosland, director of the climate group Plan B, told Byline Times: “This is not an independent report. Lord Walney is a paid lobbyist for the defence and energy industries. He is recommending more protection for defense and energy companies and more repression for those exposing the immense harm they are causing to the public, not just in terms of health but also in twisting the discourse.

“The commentary has focused on Lord Walney, but no one has questioned why he is presenting this as an independent report to the public. The Home Secretary must have done due diligence, but he is still a paid lobbyist. The report was commissioned by James Cleverley and sponsored by the Home Office.

“The right to protest is a universal right, and charging for policing would be the privatization of our basic rights. Many people are not in a position to take those risks and would be unable to participate in our politics.

“This approach seems to stem from the perceived success of some of the injunctions around Insulate Britain taken out by e.g. Transport for London, which have been extremely harsh, costing tens to hundreds of thousands of pounds in some cases. 

“This seems to be a way to silence people, but it doesn’t seem very practical. How would it work in practice? This idea makes rights and justice inaccessible, allowing those with deeper pockets to dominate.”

Following our report, the Green Party MP Caroline Lucas raised a point of order with the House of Commons Speaker on Tuesday.

“This morning the Home Office commissioned report from Lord Walney was presented in Parliament using the motion for unopposed return procedure, effectively protecting it from any kind of legal challenge”, Lucas said.

“However, the report reads as a highly political document and it includes proposals, for example, for very serious restrictions on civil liberties and human rights…

“I understand… Lord Walney’s interests as a paid advisor for the arms and oil industry are registered in the Register of Lords interests. But could you advise the House… whether it would be at least healthy for scrutiny for that to be an additional requirement for any relevant interests by report’s author to be specifically flagged for this house as well?”

In the same official review of protest groups, Woodcock argues: “Brute force must not be allowed to win the argument.” But he backs tougher enforcement by police that would in many cases prevent public displays of disagreement taking plays.  

The crossbench peer calls on the Government to “expand the grounds on which a police force can recommend a march is not permitted to go ahead on a particular date beyond the narrow grounds that it risks serious public disorder,” representing a major additional restriction on the right to protest.

Walney also supports a “broadening” of the definition of “encouraging terrorism” to include anyone who praises a terrorist group, likely meaning anyone sporting logos or espousing slogans shared by groups like Hamas would face prison. 

And he backs shifting the balance of resource requirements of policing the public’s right to protest “with other frontline priorities” – in order to reduce the “frequency” of some protests, effectively banning or limiting the weekly Palestinian solidarity protests that have taken place in London since October. 

Government ‘Independent Adviser’ Who ‘Backs Ban’ on Climate and Palestine Groups has Paid Roles with Defence and Business Lobbyists

The Conservatives’ domestic extremism adviser Lord John Walney is accused of conflicts of interest over a proposed ban of groups such as Palestine Action and Just Stop Oil

The lobbyist and Government adviser proposes exclusion orders around Parliament, effectively making it illegal to protest outside the Palace of Westminster. 

Woodcock’s review criticises the “extreme left” for allegedly “systematically” seeking to undermine faith in parliamentary democracy and the rule of law. He cited polling claiming it shows public dissatisfaction with the current legal balance, between maintaining order and supporting the right to protest. However, he appears to have ignored other polling data indicating that many believe the Conservatives’ clampdowns on protests have gone too far

Woodcock also calls for his own role to be made permanent and “properly resourced” to monitor so-called extreme protest movements.

He proposes new mechanisms to restrict activities of non-violent direct action groups like Extinction Rebellion, Just Stop Oil, Insulate Britain, and Palestine Action. 

One method proposed is to restrict these groups’ ability to organise or fundraise if they engage in activities that could lead to imprisonment or cause serious disruption or injury. This would, in effect, be a ban, as movements require funds to operate. 

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He also wants the police to have the power to apply to the Home Secretary to prohibit processions if they believe they will likely result in “intimidation”. This broad remit could effectively allow the police to ban any protest in advance, if they think it could intimidate someone. 

And his call for protest groups to pay for policing marches is viewed by critics as an indirect ban on protest. 

A spokesperson for the left-wing group Momentum, which is mentioned in Walney’s report, said: “This blatant conflict of interest further discredits the Walney Review. Lord Walney has well-documented financial ties to the defence and energy industries – it is absurd and wholly improper for him to be proposing Government policy which benefits these industries at the expense of the right to protest. His ‘review’ should be left to gather dust – and Lord Walney removed from his position.”

Lord Walney and the Home Office have been contacted for comment.


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