Thousands of demonstrators joined rallies across Britain on Saturday as part of a “national weekend of action” against a proposed new law that would give police extra powers to curb protests.
The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts bill aims to toughen measures officers can take to disperse demonstrations, such as imposing time and noise limits, which campaigners and activists fear would be used to curb dissent.
On Saturday, “kill the bill” marches were held in dozens of towns and cities, including London, Manchester and Bristol, supported by big campaign groups such as climate change campaigners Extinction Rebellion and the Black Lives Matter movement.
“(I’m here) to defend the rights of free speech, and the rights of organizations in our society,” said Jeremy Corbyn, the former leader of the opposition Labour Party who was among several thousand who joined the protest in central London.
“These demonstrations, 50 of them today, will make a difference,” he told Reuters opposite the Houses of Parliament.
Since the bill was brought before parliament last month, there have been sporadic protests. In Bristol, southwest England, demonstrations have turned violent with officers and a police station bombarded with bricks and glass bottles and police vehicles set on fire.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson criticized what he described as “disgraceful attacks” on officers, but protesters have accused police of using heavy handed tactics.
Days of protests by Extinction Rebellion, which paralyzed parts of London in early 2019, fueled calls from some politicians for the police to be given the tougher powers to prevent excessive disruption.
Demonstrations had not been permitted while a coronavirus lockdown was in place, but restrictions were eased this week, meaning the rallies could go ahead providing they were “COVID secure.”
In London, police warned, “enforcement action will be taken, if needed, in the interests of public health.” Some senior officers have said the “kill the bill” tag was deliberately provocative as “the bill” is a nickname in Britain for the police.