A restrictive, hostile environment for protest.

The Government was in a hurry, it needed its latest legislation curtailing fundamental freedoms to be on the statute book in time for King Charles 111 Coronation on the 6th May. The Government achieved its aim, the Public Order Act 2023 became law on the 2nd May.

Despite Government denials that the legislation was rushed through Parliament in time for the Coronation, the police, on the 27 April, in anticipation of the legislation becoming law, sent to various civil society organisations, Republic and Extinction Rebellion being two, a letter from the Police Powers Unit setting out the provisions of the new law. This letter has been described as intimidatory. Among many other restrictions, the law prevents ‘locking-on’ and, almost unbelievably, includes Protest banning orders that can be issued even if no offence has been committed.

Much can be said about the Coronation, not least the cost to the taxpayer estimated to be in region of £100m – austerity, establishment-style. However, the Coronation as such is not the concern of this article. 

Where the concern rests, is on the real and present danger to the right to protest for or against diverse causes in ways that might actually be effective. Recent legislation is designed to, in effect, kettle dissent, confining its expression to an ever-shrinking space. This is not only an assault against the material manifestations of protest, which it certainly is, but also represents the stifling of the possibility of envisaging different sorts of futures; ones, by definition, standing in contradiction to the present state of affairs. It is authoritarianism personified. Pro-Palestinian, Israel-critical voices in particular are likely to confront a legislatively enhanced restrictive, not to say hostile, environment.

We might conceptualise the diminution of our liberties in military terms. We are confronting a pincer-movement comprising current and new legislation. The examples here, fairly obviously, include the:

  • Police, crime, sentencing and courts Act passed into law 26 April 2022
  • Public Order Act 2013 (referred to above)

These two Acts will effectively limit people’s capacity to demonstrate and protest. Provisions of the Acts can be found here and here.

Weird, you might think, that hotfoot after passing the 2022 Act, with barely pause for breath, Government hurried to put the 2023 Act on the statute book. This needs to be understood, and feared, as an indication of this Government’s malevolent resolve to lock us all onto a state of unfreedom.

The return to Parliament to pass the 2023 Public Order Act was prompted by the Government’s defeat in the Lords on some clauses in its original 2022 legislation. Incapable of hearing, still less to responding to voices of caution, and presumably stung by the Lord’s display of rebelliousness, Government hurried to ensure that a full suite of repressive clauses should again pepper the statute book. The only comfort here is for those with a taste for irony: our liberties appear now to rest on the undemocratic, unelected House of Lords. But only temporarily. The Lord’s powers are limited.

But the two Acts named above, are not the whole story, for there is another piece of proposed legislation that will both broaden and tighten the Government’s anti-democratic pincer-movement.

Palestine the target

The proposed Bill will prohibit public bodies – which include local councils and universities – in the UK from engaging in any boycott, divestment, or sanctions that are not in line with the UK Government’s foreign, economic, or trade policies. The Bill, once law, will affect, now, and over time, any number of causes, but its particular target – now, this minute! – is undoubtedly Israel-critical, pro-Palestinian advocates.

At a seminar held in Parliament, Tayab Ali, of the International Centre of Justice for Palestinians, has pointed to the importance of understanding the dangers of the bill, adding that it is ‘primarily designed to target and curtail Palestinian-led BDS Movement which works to hold the Israeli Government to account for evidence-based serious human rights and international law violations.’

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About Me

My name is Bernard Spiegal, I write mainly about Palestine/Israel and related issues; sometimes other stuff too


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