PEACEFUL protests will be allowed from Monday under updated Covid rules in the wake of the Sarah Everard vigil.
Demonstrations have been given an exemption from the rule-of-six limit on outdoor gatherings in the first step to lift lockdown on March 29.
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Women protest for the right to protest in Cardiff following clashes at the Sarah Everard vigil in Clapham last weekendCredit: Getty
Rioters laid siege to a police station in Bristol last night after a ‘Kill The Bill’ demoCredit: LNP
The new public health rules – included in legal papers laid before Parliament this week – come into force next Monday when the stay-at-home order officially ends in England.
It comes as Boris Johnson won a vote tonight to rubber stamp a six month extension of the Covid laws until September.
The plans to extend the Coronavirus Act sailed through the Commons comfortably – by 484 to 76, and a majority of 408.
Protests will be considered a permitted exception to the rules banning group gatherings, so long as they are “organised by a business, a charitable, benevolent or philanthropic institution, a public body or a political body”.
Organisers must take “the required precautions in relation to the gathering”, the law says – which is likely to ensuring people wear masks and maintain social distancing.
The regulations were tweaked after fury at the way police manhandled mourners on Clapham Common earlier this month.
And tonight Boris Johnson won a vote to rubber stamp a six month extension of the Covid laws until September – meaning
MPs voted 484 to 76, majority 408, to extend coronavirus laws for a further six months.
Women were handcuffed and bundled into vans during a peaceful vigil for Sarah, 33, who was last seen walking across the common before she was allegedly kidnapped and murdered by an off-duty gun cop.
Met chief Dame Cressida Dick faced calls to quit over the heavy handed response, which sparked a series of violent protests directed at cops.
Last night 20 officers were injured in a “Kill The Bill” riot outside a Bristol police station as thugs hijacked a march against proposed new police powers.
The Government’s Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill includes controversial measures to crack down on nuisance demos.
Ex-PM Theresa May and former police chiefs are among those who have spoken out at the “draconian” legislation.
A sea of flowers at Clapham Common grandstand following clashes between police and women attending a vigil to Sarah EverardCredit: Dan Charity / The Sun
The Met’s heavy handed response sparked further protests up and down the countryCredit: LNP
The PM’s spokesman last week sought to assuage critics by confirming peaceful protests would be allowed from March 29.
“However, these will still be subject to the previous Covid-secure precautions we had, namely that organisers need to submit risk assessments and ensure there is appropriate social distancing,” the spokesman said.
Boris Johnson said he backs the right to protest in the wake of the shocking scenes in Bristol.
The PM said: “I think that all that kind of thing is unacceptable and I think that the people obviously have a right to protest in this country.
“But they should protest peacefully and legally.”
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer also said the riots were “inexcusable” and “completely unacceptable”.
But his backbencher Nadia Whittome caused a stir when she refused to condemn the Bristol violence.
The Nottingham East MP said: “It is right to wait until after an investigation into why public order broke down at a demonstration that was previously peaceful before making sweeping statements.”
WHAT MEASURES ARE IN THE BILL?
Some of the key measures in the Government’s Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill include:
- Whole life orders for premeditated murder of a child, allowing judges to also hand out the maximum sentence to 18 to 20-year-olds in exceptional cases, like for acts of terrorism leading to mass loss of life.
- Powers to halt the automatic early release of offenders who pose a danger to the public and end the automatic release halfway through a sentence of serious violent and sexual offenders.
- Introducing life sentences for killer drivers
- Expanding position-of-trust laws to make it illegal for sports coaches and religious leaders to engage in sexual activity with 16 and 17-year-olds in their care.
- The legislation looks to toughen up powers the police have to tackle “non-violent” protests which are significantly disruptive to the public or on access to Parliament.
- The proposed law includes an offence of “intentionally or recklessly causing public nuisance”.
Ms Whittome added: “What must not be lost in this conversation is the Policing Bill itself. It represents the biggest assault on the right to peaceful protest in a generation.
“It is an illiberal and draconian Bill that must be scrapped. If we want peaceful protest, peaceful protest must be allowed.”
Home Secretary Priti Patel has insisted the new powers were needed after a significant change in protest tactics in recent years.
Ministers want to give police more powers to tackle highly disruptive action by groups such as Extinction Rebellion and HS2 protesters.
But Sir Peter Fahy, former chief constable of Greater Manchester, warned the proposed law could actually make it harder to police protests.
He told Times Radio following the Sarah Everard vigil: “People need to be really worried about this .
“We’ve learnt one thing this weekend, it’s the right to protest, the right to gather, the right to have a voice is fundamental to our democracy, and particularly British democracy.
“You’ve got to be really wary of more legislation being rushed through just because certain politicians didn’t like certain demonstrations in the summer.”
Labour MP Nadia Whittome, seen last week at protest against police in Parliament Square, refused to condemn last night’s riots in BristolCredit: PA
Rioters torched police cars and injured 20 officers in Bristol last nightCredit: LNP
A mob tried to smash their way into Bridewell police stationCredit: Reuters