On Saturday, against a stated law that would give police additional powers to restrict protests, thousands of demonstrators joined rallies across Britain, with some fights breaking out following a march in London.
The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts bill aims to toughen standards officers can take to scatter demonstrations, such as forcing time and noise limits, which campaigners and activists fear would be used to control heresy.
“Kill the bill” walks were held in dozens of towns and cities, supported by big campaign groups such as climate change campaigners Extinction Rebellion and the Black Lives Matter movement. Almost all passed off peacefully but there were minor clashes in central London between demonstrators and police following a gathering accompanied by several thousand people.
London’s Metropolitan Police, which extended a large number of officers in the capital to bring the demonstration to an end, said there had been 26 arrests and 10 officers were injured, although none seriously. “The vast majority of people who turned out in central London today did so while adhering to social distancing,” said Commander Ade Adelekan. “However, a small minority did not engage despite the repeated efforts of officers on the ground.
“This left us with no option but to move to an enforcement stage and arrests have been made.”
The new bill reflects action by Extinction Rebellion which deadened parts of London in early 2019 and fired calls from some politicians for the police to be given more robust powers to stop the extreme agitation.
As the recommended law was brought before parliament last month, there have been occasional demonstrations across the country, with Saturday’s rallies being part of what organisers said was a national weekend of action. “(I’m here) to defend the rights of free speech, and the rights of organisations in our society,” said Jeremy Corbyn, former leader of the main opposition Labour Party, who was among those who took part in the London protest.
“These demonstrations, 50 of them today, will make a difference,” he told Reuters opposite the Houses of Parliament.
The protest so far has been centred in the southwestern English city of Bristol. Some demonstrations there have transformed violent, with officers attacked with missiles and police vehicles set on fire, which Prime Minister Boris Johnson described as “disgraceful attacks”.
A large crowd assembled again in Bristol on Saturday evening, although the demonstration continued quiet. Some senior officers have said the “kill the bill” label was intentionally provocative as “the bill” is a nickname in Britain for the police.