Politicians across the board unite in condemning XR protesters

Politicians across the board unite in condemning XR protesters who blocked printworks as Keir Starmer blasts anarchists’ tactics as ‘wrong’ and Lib Dem leader Ed Davey says they are ‘shooting themselves in the foot’

  • Sir Keir Starmer has led a widespread condemnation of Extinction Rebellion  
  • Activists blockaded printworks on Friday delaying distribution of newspapers 
  • Labour leader Sir Keir and Lib Dems Sir Ed Davey both condemned the group 
  • Comes as Home Secretary Priti Patel considers stronger measures against XR 

Politicians from across the political sphere have hit out at Extinction Rebellion activists who blocked printworks on Friday. 

More than 100 protesters targeted Newsprinters printing works at Broxbourne, Hertfordshire, and Knowsley, near Liverpool, blocking newspapers from leaving the depots. 

The move has been widely criticised, with Home Secretary Priti Patel said to be looking at reclassifying the group as an organised crime gang. 

And across the house, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has slammed XR for targeting the press.  

He said: ‘The free press is the cornerstone of democracy and we must do all we can to protect it. Denying people the chance to read what they choose is wrong and does nothing to tackle climate change.’  

Sir Ed Davey, leader of the Liberal Democrats, has said Extinction Rebellion protesters were ‘shooting themselves in the foot’ following their blockade of newspaper printing presses on Friday evening.

Police and fire services outside the Newsprinters printing works at Broxbourne, Hertfordshire

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has slammed XR for targeting the press, leading condemnation from across the political spectrum

He said: ‘I think we need to bring the country together to realise we have a climate emergency alongside the Covid health and economic emergency.

‘My concern with what we saw was that it actually divides people, it can undermine the message about the climate emergency.

‘I fear that when you damage the free press in particular, that is shooting yourself in the foot.

‘There was an interview with David Attenborough in one of those newspapers that didn’t get distributed – David Attenborough is the environmentalist par excellence, he has a lot to say about climate change and how we protect our environment.

‘I think stopping people reading David Attenborough is not a good message.’

Hertfordshire Police said 51 people have now been charged with obstruction of the highway following the protest outside Newsprinters Ltd print works in Waltham Cross.

The statement said two people have been remanded in custody to appear in court on Monday while 49 were released on conditional bail.

Chief Superintendent Matt Nicholls of Hertfordshire Constabulary contradicted this stance and said the blockade was ‘not lawful and not acceptable’.

He added: ‘People have a right to peaceful protest, however this was a carefully orchestrated blockade of a public road, designed to cause the maximum possible harm to local businesses.

‘This was most certainly not lawful and not acceptable. In these circumstances, we will always seek to bring criminal charges against anyone who does this.

Sir Ed Davey, leader of the Liberal Democrats, has said Extinction Rebellion protesters were ‘shooting themselves in the foot’ with the move

‘The bail conditions forbid those charged from taking part in current protest events during the current 10 days of action on climate change.’

It comes as a war of words erupted after Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab slammed Labour’s Diane Abbott this morning for defending Extinction Rebellion activists who blockaded newspaper printing presses on Friday. 

Ms Abbott compared Extinction Rebellion to the Suffragettes and criticised the government’s plans to reclassify the activists as an organised crime gang. She also described the protest as a ‘legal tactic’. 

However, Mr Raab has criticised Ms Abbott and slammed XR’s actions. 

He told Sky’s Sophy Ridge: ‘I’m astounded at Diane Abbott’s remarks. The idea that it is right to damage property or intervene with a free press in the name of progressive protest is, I think, perverse.

‘Actually, I think it is damaging to the cause of climate change.

Extinction Rebellion protestors block access of a printing house in Broxbourne, Hertfordshire, leaving some newsagents’ shelves empty on Saturday morning

‘I respect the right of peaceful protest but hijacking that with a militant agenda to disrupt the very heart of democratic debate, which is through a free media, is just totally wrong and we’re against it, and I think law enforcement action should be taken to preserve our wider freedoms, and they do include a free media.’

Ms Abbott earlier defended the protest, saying direct action is a ‘legal tactic’ and adding that it would be ‘ridiculous’ for the Government to reclassify Extinction Rebellion.

She told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday: ‘They’re not criminals, they’re protesters and activists in the tradition of the Suffragettes and the hunger marches of the 1930s.’

Following the stunt, Home Secretary Priti Patel said she wants to take a ‘fresh look’ at how XR is classified under law, while Boris Johnson deemed the act ‘completely unacceptable’.

A potential review could lead to XR being treated as an organised crime group, sources said, as part of a clampdown on its activities, which have included bringing cities across the UK to a standstill by forming human barriers along major roads, and by disrupting public transport. 

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