Boris Johnson is drawing up plans for a new crackdown on disruptive demonstrations after climate activists delayed the distribution of hundreds of thousands of copies of national newspapers yesterday.
The Prime Minister, who branded the action by the Extinction Rebellion (XR) group a 'completely unacceptable' attempt to 'limit the public's access' to a 'vital' free press, is understood to have consulted colleagues, including Justice Secretary Robert Buckland, about drafting new public order laws in the wake of the disturbances.
More than 70 arrests were made after dozens of activists chained themselves to the gates of Newsprinters in Broxbourne, Hertfordshire and blocked access to presses in Knowsley near Liverpool, delaying the arrival of hundreds of thousands of papers, including the Daily Mail, to newsagents.
Boris Johnson is drawing up plans for a new crackdown on disruptive demonstrations after climate activists delayed the distribution of thousands of copies of newspapers
Mr Johnson, who spoke to Met Police Commissioner Cressida Dick to urge her to do more to defend the plants, said: 'It is completely unacceptable to seek to limit the public's access to news in this way.'
The Prime Minister is considering strengthening the laws to impose tighter restrictions on mass gatherings, in particular where it threatens the freedom of the press.
A source said: 'Boris believes that the protection of a free press is a key tenet of democracy and the law should do more to uphold that'.
The Prime Minister, who branded the action by the Extinction Rebellion (XR) group a 'completely unacceptable' attempt to 'limit the public's access' to a 'vital' free press, is understood to have consulted colleagues, including Justice Secretary Robert Buckland, about drafting new public order laws in the wake of the disturbances
More than 70 arrests were made after activists chained themselves to the gates of Newsprinters in Broxbourne, Hertfordshire and blocked access to presses in Knowsley near Liverpool, delaying the arrival of thousands of papers, including the Mail, to newsagents
Mr Johnson's views were echoed by his fiancée, Carrie Symonds, who said: 'I care about climate change and biodiversity a massive amount but preventing a free press to spread this message further is just wrong.
'Not to mention all those small businesses that rely on being able to sell newspapers.'
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer did not comment on the protests, but a party spokesman said that he supported the view of his Culture Spokesperson Jo Stevens, who said: 'A free press is vital for our democracy.'
Conservative MP Tobias Ellwood backed a legal crackdown on XR, telling The Mail on Sunday: 'Extinction Rebellion has lost sight of its original cause and is recklessly pursuing a divisive agenda intent on causing disruption on a mass scale.
'By intentionally and unapologetically stifling press freedoms, harming news agents revenues and denying the public access to newspapers, the organisation crossed a line which must be defended. I have spoken with the Justice Secretary and requested he review legislation relating to unlawful and disruptive protests'.The middle-class eco rabble who want to kill off free speech: Actress leads Extinction Rebellion activists as they moan their climate change doomsday message isn't being printed on newspaper front pages EVERY DAY... as they block access to national presses
By Max Aitchison, Jonathan Bucks and Peter Henn for the Mail on Sunday
They were taking drastic action, they gravely insisted, because their doomsday message on climate change was not being printed on newspaper front pages every day.
That's right, every day. That such a heavy-handed demand was so wildly incompatible with freedom of expression, something they profess to cherish, seemed lost on the Extinction Rebellion (XR) activists yesterday.
Blockading access to national presses, thereby preventing newspaper distribution, was not exactly the most democratic of actions either. It was an irony that the ragtag army of mostly middle-class protesters who laid siege to presses at Broxbourne in Hertfordshire, Knowsley in Merseyside, and Motherwell in North Lanarkshire failed to grasp.
When they weren't chained to bamboo frames blocking the road, the protesters were delivering eye-crossingly monotonous diatribes to reporters. Typical of the activists was Gully Bujak, frogmarched from the Broxbourne blockade just off the M25 by police after sprawling on a blow-up mattress atop a van.
One protester is led away by police outside the Newsprinters printing works at Broxbourne, Hertfordshire following demonstrations (pictured: September 5, 2020)
When they weren't chained to bamboo frames blocking the road, the protesters were delivering eye-crossingly monotonous diatribes to reporters
The 27-year-old's previous battle honours include being arrested at a protest last April after sitting in a pink boat blocking the middle of Oxford Circus. On that occasion she said the police were 'polite and considerate' but that, she mused, was only because of her 'position of privilege as a white middle-class woman'.
Tired and grumpy, the police seemed markedly less accommodating in the small hours of yesterday. A senior officer instructed his staff that two officers were required per arrest. 'This is a public nuisance offence and these protesters are preventing the distribution of four major national newspapers tomorrow,' he said.
As she was led away, Ms Bujak, an 'actress, model and extra' gushed about her 'extraordinary' fellow protesters as if they were the cast members in a hit West End show.
Then she got serious and intoned: 'The climate emergency is an existential threat to humanity. Instead of publishing this on the front page every day as it deserves, much of our media ignores the issue and some actively sow seeds of climate denial.'
By midnight in Broxbourne, around 30 Hertfordshire police officers had formed a cordon around 300 yards from where the 60 or so protesters had blocked the road.
A steady stream of confused workers turned up at the printworks, many having parked on the motorway verge because they couldn't access the car park. A frazzled manager stood at the cordon in heated conversation with officers. But as the night wore on, hundreds more officers arrived on the scene. By 1am, the quiet corner of Hertfordshire was a sea of blue lights and police officers from five different forces and more than 50 vehicles.
A handful of Extinction Rebellion loyalists stood outside the cordon filming the scene and co-ordinating with protesters blocking the road (pictured: one protester is led away by police outside the Newsprinters printing works at Broxbourne, Hertfordshire following demonstrations, September 5, 2020)
Typical of the activists was Gully Bujak, frogmarched from the Broxbourne blockade just off the M25 by police after sprawling on a blow-up mattress atop a van (pictured: one protester is led away by police outside the Newsprinters printing works at Broxbourne, Hertfordshire following demonstrations, September 5, 2020)
A handful of Extinction Rebellion loyalists stood outside the cordon filming the scene and co-ordinating with protesters blocking the road. At 2.30am, around 30 black-clad officers gathered in the nondescript business park, seemingly discussing tactics.
One XR member filming the scene gestured towards the police and muttered: 'Here we go then' before they stopped filming and scarpered. Guests at the neighbouring Travelodge, clearly awoken by the ceaseless sirens, poked their heads out the windows.
Four black vans were let through the cordon and parked up as protesters began singing the Stars Wars film tune that is used to mark Darth Vader's entrance.
They brandished dozens of black boxes containing drills and chainsaws which they then used to cut through the locks and chains the protesters had used. Enormous floodlights were used.
For several hours, sparks flew and the sound of chainsaws could be heard against the backdrop of XR's music and chants of 'Extinction Rebellion'. By 5.30am, officers had arrested eight protesters – each arrest greeted with a cheer from other protesters.
The group had sent out instructions for 'rebels' at home, which included going to local newsagents and 'explaining to potential newspaper buyers why their newspaper is not on the shelves'. XR's ambition to target printing plants was revealed by the Mail on Sunday in December. A plan called The Great March for Truth & Blockade, was pitched to XR's 'Action Circle' that month. The proposal identified the Broxbourne site as 'very vulnerable to a mass blockade'.
The pink boat which climate change activists used as a central point of their encampment as they occupied the road junction at Oxford Circus in central London on April 19, 2019
One of the co-authors of the report, Donnachadh McCarthy, a career activist, was at yesterday's blockade. He said he was taking part because the Government was 'taking sides with the enemies of Britain', adding: 'We feel that there's silence from the media and Government on climate change. We've faced the Coronavirus crisis, but rather than use it to create a new, green, economy, the Government has given quantitative easing money and Covid loans to people like the aviation industry,' he said.
Mr McCarthy, a green energy consultant, has been repeatedly arrested during protests in recent years. In 2014 he was part of the Occupy Democracy protest in Parliament Square and was arrested for allegedly refusing to provide his name and having a tarpaulin which could be used for sleeping, which he denied. Last year he was one of the more than 3,000 XR protesters arrested by the Met.
Other protesters at Broxbourne included Matthew Hammond, 51, a maths tutor, who once declared on an XR march in his home city: 'We pace the walls as if they were the walls of Jericho, to be broken asunder, to let the change and new world in.' He posted a long poem about his experience yesterday.
Another activist, Tim Speers, was arrested last year while filming himself spray-painting the slogan 'animal emergency = crime against humanity' on London's Old Bailey.
Critical tweets on the action included one from Jeremy Clarkson, who said: 'Dear XR people. You've been hacked by a bunch of sixth form proto-communists. Lose them or lose ALL your support.'
Meanwhile Boris Johnson said a free press was 'vital' in holding the Government to account and 'it is completely unacceptable to seek to limit the public's access to news in this way'. Last night, police confirmed they had arrested 80 people across all three sites.