Why I'm going on HUNGER STRIKE to fight Sadiq Khan's ULEZ expansion

Why I’m going on HUNGER STRIKE to fight Sadiq Khan’s ULEZ expansion and stand up for the common man

  • Prabhdeep Singh, 41, is protesting the impending expansion of the Ulez zone 

A smart, grey gazebo, pitched between an aromatic bakery, a sweet shop and Uxbridge Tube station, does not seem the obvious place to stage a hunger strike.

But Prabhdeep Singh, 41, was settling in just fine when I visited him on day four of seven, last week.

‘I’m feeling wonderful. I’m very energetic — I’m feeling great!’ he says.

He certainly packed very carefully for his week-long fast in protest of the impending expansion of the Ulez clean-air zone across Greater London by mayor Sadiq Khan.

There’s a camp bed, pillow, several brightly coloured blankets, a sponge bag, a sleeping bag, a battery-operated speaker, several bottles of water and a vast 1,200-page tome on the history and philosophy of Sikhism, which he is yet to find the time to open.

Prabhdeep Singh (pictured with wife Ranjeet Kaur), 41, was settling in just fine when I visited him on day four of seven of his hunger strike in protest of ULEZ, last week

And the most important item — his extremely supportive wife, Ranjeet Kaur, 37, who has left their two young children with her parents and been here all week.

‘I couldn’t leave him on his own!’ she gasps. ‘I’ve been camping out with him. This is not a thing to be doing on your own.’

Indeed, on Tuesday evening, she tells me, as they were settling down for bed, a reveller, fresh from a night on the ales, tried to relieve himself on the wall of their gazebo.

‘I had to stop him. Some of the young people here! Several others came asking for toilet paper. But mostly people have been lovely. And very, very supportive.’

Of course they have! Because as Sir Keir Starmer learnt the hard way, Sadiq Khan’s deeply unpopular plan to extend the Ultra Low Emission Zone across the capital on August 29 is a political hot potato.

It cost Labour the recent by-election here in Uxbridge, with the Tories hanging on to Boris’s old seat with barely 500 votes. And, over the past week or so, there have been demonstrations, marches, appeals and banners reading ‘Out with Khan’.

READ MORE: Anti-ULEZ demo goes awry when protesters’ van wheels are PUNCTURED – as crowd marches over expansion of Sadiq Khan’s controversial scheme 

Prabhdeep says: ‘It is discrimination! Against old people, young people, poorer people — anyone who cannot afford to replace their car whenever they feel like it. Just like the policy to phase out petrol and diesel cars in 2030. It’s madness. Like a dictatorship! So I am exercising my right to protest in a peaceful way against the mayor who is supposed to be accountable to the people.’

Ulez — an expansion of the policy introduced in central London in April 2019 — will require people to pay £12.50 a day to drive in Greater London if their cars do not meet certain environmental standards.

Vehicles unlikely to meet the conditions include most diesel cars registered before September 2015 and most petrol cars registered before 2001. The annual cost for commuters to keep those vehicles is potentially £4,500.

Critics accuse Ulez of unfairly penalising the poor, who are likely to own older cars.

Prabhdeep is actually from Reading, not Uxbridge — but felt this was the obvious place to make his point. He has been a tailor, a member of the Royal Army Dental Corps, a garage mechanic and now works as a private hire driver, doing airport drop-offs in his soon-to-be non-Ulez-compliant 2015 Vauxhall Insignia.

As he does not live in London, he is not eligible for the £2,000 emergency relief bought in by Sadiq last week — or any of the allowances.

His options are stark — a new Ulez-compliant car would cost £15,000, which he does not have. Interest on hire purchase is astronomical but, if he pays the tariffs, it will set him back over £4,500 a year.

But Prabhdeep insists it is not so much the cost to him, but the unjustness, that made something snap inside him.

‘This is about the survival of the common people in very difficult times,’ he says, showing me his ‘fight2survive’ logo.

As Sir Keir Starmer learnt the hard way, Sadiq Khan’s deeply unpopular plan to extend the Ultra Low Emission Zone across the capital on August 29 is a political hot potato

‘I have written twice to the Prime Minister, but nothing. I was thinking of organising a march from Reading to Downing Street, but there was no time to plan. So a seven-day hunger strike seemed the obvious solution.’

Really? It seems a bit extreme.

‘If you want to make things change, you have to do something hard. You have to fight,’ he says.

It turns out this is Prabhdeep’s second hunger strike.

In August 2021, he was so moved by an interview on breakfast television with a pensioner called Elsie, forced by the cost-of-living crisis to cut out one meal a day, that he camped outside Reading Station, starving himself in solidarity.

‘I wanted to do something symbolic. If she was forced to skip one meal a day, I would skip all meals for a week,’ he says.

Loyal Ranjeet was at his side back then, too. Not just sleeping out, but fasting as well. ‘It’s hard. But if my husband is not eating, how can I eat? It feels wrong.’ she says.

READ MORE: Sir Keir Starmer junks pledge to role out clean air zones across UK after disastrous public response to Sadiq Khan’s hated Ulez scheme in London 


(Though on day four, with his encouragement, she cracked and made a dash to McDonald’s for a vegetarian wrap.)

‘I hope this is the last time [he goes on hunger strike],’ she says, her long plaits a bit rumpled.

Let’s hope so . . . but perhaps not. Because, of course, in the past two years, everything seems to have got worse economically. ‘The cost of living, interest rates, mortgage rates, food poverty — and now Ulez on top. It is too much,’ cries Prabhdeep. ‘We know there is a big problem with the air in central London, but extending it right out here is madness. The mayor is trying to sort one problem, but then making many, many more for the common people.’

Which is why, he says, the police have turned a blind eye to him pitching his gazebo on the street and camping out for a week.

And why all the local businesses have lent a hand, with phone-charging and toilet facilities, a cooling fan ‘from a very kind gentleman’ and access to a washroom where Prabhdeep takes a flannel bath each morning. ‘I am a very clean person,’ he says. And why, as we chat in the broiling-hot gazebo, a constant flow of well-wishers poke their heads round the grey flap door to thank him. A cabbie. A florist. A mother of four.

‘Just wanted to say well done’; ‘Keep up the good work’; ‘Thank you’; ‘Good luck!’

Not that he ever had any doubt he’d sail through the week.

‘I am very confident. I have never underestimated myself, have I Ranjeet?’

She shakes her head.

‘I will complete this task. Last time I lost six kilos!’

It helps that lessons have been learnt from then. He knows there’s no point in ‘dry runs’ of 24-hour fasts, as they’re so awful they’ll just put you off. That the first 24 hours are the hardest. And that day two is the most painful — ‘I had a severe headache and was so giddy I had to sit on the bed for some time and have some water.’

But then things settle down.

So is he really not hungry — no tummy rumbles?

‘No!’ he says firmly.

He also insists he is craving nothing — ‘it is only a week’ — though he does look a bit dreamy when he talks about Ranjeet’s ‘amazing chicken curry and lamb curry, vegetable dishes and, well, all her delicious food’.

By day three, apparently, the body starts adapting.

‘My energy comes back and I feel normal,’ he says as, beaming and sitting cross-legged like a prophet on his camp bed, he tells me the joyful story of how he and Ranjeet met and fell in love.

‘On a matrimonial dating site!’ he says.

Critics accuse Ulez of unfairly penalising the poor, who are likely to own older cars (pictured is a sign installed earlier this month)

‘We never met in person until we married — we lived so far apart, a 14-hour train journey,’ chips in Ranjeet. ‘But we are so, so happy. We are both spiritual. We argue, of course we do, but we are that couple made in Heaven.’

Which is good. Because living in Prabhdeep’s choppy wake must sometimes feel a bit challenging.

For this hunger strike, he gave her just a week’s notice — tricky with a full-time job and two sons, aged seven and 12.

She had already arranged the festivities for their younger son’s seventh birthday — which fell in the middle of the hunger strike — and had to cancel it all and draft in relatives to care for both boys.

‘It had to be now,’ he insists. ‘Time is running out. Our son has been very understanding.’

The weather hasn’t been kind, either. First cold, then torrential rain, and now the sun is turning the gazebo into an oven.

Sleep has been a challenge, even with earplugs, thanks to loud music, drunken youths, bin men, street-sweepers, foxes and the station opening at 5am.

READ MORE: EXCLUSIVE: Street split in half by ULEZ expansion will see neighbours pay £25 for school runs, £12.50 to go shopping and break into funeral funds as self-employed trader has to cough up £15,000 for new van and Gordon Ramsay chef is forced to sell his BMW 

‘But hopefully now, with all the publicity, the mayor will start sleeping badly, too, and that will make me happy,’ says Prabhdeep.

By day four, he felt held aloft by something else.

‘When you do something like this, you get a lot of moral support that uplifts you. It carries you through and today I feel fantastic. I underestimated that.’

And he does looks pretty great — clear skin, bright eyes, lustrous beard.

From day four to the end, it is the kindness of strangers that keeps him buoyant.

The entire community seems to have been behind him here in Uxbridge, popping in every five minutes.

Some hug him. Many promise to come back every day until he’s finished.

Dozens write emotional messages in his notebook. About what the ULEZ expansion will mean for them. Wrecked businesses. Some can’t visit graves. Others can’t afford to drive to the shops.

But perhaps Sue, a crisply turned-out BA worker from Denham in Buckinghamshire, who does shifts at Heathrow and sticks her head round the tent door, sums it up best.

‘It’s just nonsense and it’s not fair. They’re throwing everything at us at the moment, and then say they want the country back on its feet again and bringing in money. We can’t afford it and it isn’t the right time. We just can’t take any more.’

When Prabhdeep’s fast is finally over, at 7pm on Saturday, he is tired, tearful, five kilos lighter, ready for a bowl of Ranjeet’s legendary lentil dahl — and feted by a great crowd of supporters.

‘So many people!’ he cries.

But still nothing from Sadiq Kahn. Certainly no sign that he might pause, even for a minute, and think about the timing of Ulez, the impact on so many people already struggling and the speed at which he is smashing it through.

‘I thought he might have sent a note — after all, he is the reason I’m here. But nothing,’ Prabhdeep says sadly.

‘I am not hoping for a miracle. But we live in a democratic structure where the people are supposed to have the power. We have to fight back. We have to stand up for ourselves. Or we will end up with nothing.’

Which is why, he promises, there will be something else dramatic happening, to sock it to Ulez, in the next week or so. Just as soon as he’s got his strength back.

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