Cambridge Extinction Rebellion member Donald Bell: ‘I knew I’d be hated for Remembrance Day climate protest at Cenotaph’
Cambridge Extinction Rebellion member Donald Bell has said he knew he would be “hated” for the leading role he played in a climate protest at the Cenotaph in London on Remembrance Day.
The Prime Minister’s spokesman called Wednesday morning’s action was “profoundly disrespectful” while Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said it was in “bad taste”.
Extinction Rebellion campaigners unveiled a banner reading “Honour Their Sacrifice, Climate Change Means War” at the memorial on Whitehall, in central London, on Wednesday morning.
Mr Bell, a British Army veteran who has previously faced court climate protests in Cambridge, then observed a two-minute silence before hanging a wreath of poppies bearing the message “Act now” on the Cenotaph.
A spokesman for the Prime Minister said: “The Cenotaph is a memorial to those who fought and died to preserve all our freedoms.
“On today, of all days, when we join together to pay tribute to our war dead, this action was profoundly disrespectful.”
Asked whether officers should have prevented the stunt, the spokesman said: “These are operational matters for the police.”
A spokesman for Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said: “No one can doubt how serious the climate emergency is, but the protests at the Cenotaph are wrong.
“They are in bad taste. We do not support them.”
The Royal British Legion (RBL) said Remembrance Day was not a time for political protest.
An RBL spokesman said: “War memorials and graves honour the memory of every member of the Armed Forces who has made the ultimate sacrifice and deserve to be treated with the utmost respect.
“The Armed Forces community, past and present, have made sacrifices in defence of the freedoms we have today, including the freedom of speech.
“While we respect the right of others to express their opinions within the law, we believe the Poppy Appeal is a time for remembrance, and not for political protest.”
Veterans minister Johnny Mercer tweeted: “Climate change matters, but the Cenotaph on Armistice day should be about one thing only – showing our respect for the sacrifice of the fallen who died to protect our freedoms today.”
Mr Bell, 64, who completed four tours in Northern Ireland during the Troubles, said his actions were in response to the government’s “‘Dad’s Army'” approach to protecting the country from climate change.
He said: “Unchecked climate change means a return to a world at war.
“I took action today knowing that I would be criticised.
“I knew that I would be accused of being disrespectful and hated by many for speaking out in this way. Remembrance Day is never an easy time for veterans and this was not an easy decision for me to make.
“This government’s own climate advisers, the Committee on Climate Change, said last year that they have a ‘Dad’s Army’ approach to protecting British people from the impacts of climate change.
“Their report in June this year showed that the Government has failed to meet all but two of the 31 milestones it set itself for reducing emissions.
“This government is criminally negligent and young people today will pay the price for their failure.”
Metropolitan Police officers moved in to remove the Extinction Rebellion wreath after it was placed on the monument.
Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick, who leds the Met, is reviewing how officers dealt with the protest.
She told the London Assembly Police and Crime Committee on Wednesday: “Activity this morning was clearly very offensive to many people. The actual wording on the banner is not of itself offensive, but to go to the Cenotaph for a protest of any sort would have been offensive for many people.
“I am reviewing what happened there. What I can tell you is whoever it was that left the banner was there I believe at 8am, it was removed as soon as the officers saw it at 8.20am.
“I of course like everybody regret the fact that people have seen it fit on today of all days to put an inappropriate banner around the Cenotaph.”
Officers are also investigating any potential breaches of coronavirus lockdown rules.
Mr Bell pleaded guilty in August to obstructing a constable and criminal damage after using glue to stick his hand to a police vehicle during a climate protest outside oilfield services firm Schlumberger in Cambridge on February 18, causing damage to the paintwork.
He told the court he acted “to defend this country and this planet”.
Mr Bell also took part in a seven-day hunger strike in November 29 to raise awareness about the climate emergency.