Suella Braverman has unveiled plans for a major crackdown on protests deemed disruptive, as she accused activists of “holding the British public to ransom”.
The home secretary said she will give police new powers to take a more “proactive” approach to some protests, with some measures specifically aimed at tactics favoured by environmental groups.
Just Stop Oil and Extinction Rebellion activists have staged various protests and demonstrations in recent months, causing disruption to commuters and traffic in central London.
Hundreds have been arrested already as protesters block roads and glue themselves in place. Charges were brought against two women on Saturday after soup was thrown at a Van Gogh masterpiece in the National Gallery.
Ms Braverman has spoken out against such methods before, telling the Tory conference earlier this month there is “not a human right to vandalise property”.
Accusing protesters of draining police resources, Ms Braverman will use the government’s Public Order Bill to allow secretaries of state to apply for injunctions in the “public interest” where protests are causing or threatening “serious disruption or a serious adverse impact on public safety”.
According to the Home Office, this will include protecting access to “essential” goods, services and “key” infrastructure.
Ms Braverman said: “I will not bend to protestors attempting to hold the British public to ransom.
“Preventing our emergency services from reaching those who desperately need them is indefensible, hideously selfish and in no way in the public interest.
“This serious and dangerous disruption, let alone the vandalism, is not a freedom of expression, nor a human right. It must stop.”
The Home Office said a new criminal offence was planned for interfering with infrastructure such as oil refineries, airports, railways and printing presses. Such an offence would carry a maximum sentence of 12 months in prison, an unlimited fine, or both.
“Locking on” or “going equipped to lock-on” to other people, objects or buildings to cause “serious disruption” could see people imprisoned for six months or hit with an unlimited fine.
A new criminal office of tunnelling to cause serious disruption is also being created, which will carry a maximum penalty of three years’ imprisonment as well as the potential for an unlimited fine.
An offence of going equipped to tunnel will also be created.
The Public Order Bill will return to Parliament next week and Ms Braverman said it is “high time” MPs back it.
The Home Office is also promising that stop-and-search measures and new serious disruption prevention orders will support the police, with the latter targeting those repeatedly convicted of protest-related offences.
Senior officers raised concerns with The Independent over some provisions in the bill when previous home secretary Priti Patel tried attempted to get it through parliament.