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Anthony Browne MP: Police should have upheld law over Extinction Rebellion

Opinion | By Anthony Browne, Conservative MP for South Cambridgeshire

Anthony Browne, the Conservative MP for South Cambridgeshire. Picture: Keith Heppell
Anthony Browne, the Conservative MP for South Cambridgeshire. Picture: Keith Heppell

The one event that has most filled my postbag with outrage since being elected two months ago was the Extinction Rebellion blockade of Cambridge streets, and the digging up of the Trinity College lawn.

Or more specifically, the decision of the Cambridgeshire police not to open up the streets and to stand by and watch as criminal vandalism is done to a national icon.

People expect the police to do what they are paid to do, and uphold the law - not ignore law breaking because it is politically motivated.

I wrote to the Police and Crime Commissioner and spoke to him, to convey the public anger.

The issue is that the police believe – wrongly in my view – that the Human Rights Act means they cannot curb people’s right to demonstrate unless there is a severe disruption.

But the disruption – and criminal damage – was severe to those affected. I strongly support the right to demonstrate, but that does not give you the right to deliberately blockade streets and commit vandalism.

I strongly support the objectives of Extinction Rebellion – I have been environment correspondent at two national newspapers, and am chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on the Environment. But I do not support its means – it should not break the law.

The Extinction Rebellion protest at Trinity College. Picture: Keith Heppell
The Extinction Rebellion protest at Trinity College. Picture: Keith Heppell

They ridiculously and insultingly compare themselves to the Suffragettes, who broke the law in order to change it. But the suffragettes – and most of the adult population at the time – did not have the vote and so could not pursue democratic means.

You do not have to break the law to change opinion.

Greta Thurnberg and David Attenborough have done far more to change opinion than Extinction Rebellion, but have broken no laws.

By flagrantly breaking the law, Extinction Rebellion will not only undermine themselves, but also support for climate action. You do not win people over by alienating them.

We also have a serious problem as a country if the police believe they can’t stop criminal vandalism if it is politically motivated.

We live under the rule of law, not mob rule. I will be raising it with the Home Secretary.

  • Cambridgeshire police charged nine people during the Extinction Rebellion week of action. They are due to appear before Cambridge magistrates on March 30.

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