Rupert Myers is a barrister and writer.
Boris Johnson wasn’t just amusing when he said that Insulate Britain protesters were “irresponsible crusties” who would be better off “insulated in jail” – he was absolutely right.
When Roger Hallam, an environmental activist, said that he’d deliberately block an ambulance, even knowing that it contained a dying patient, in order to pursue the protests that have been blocking Britain’s roads, he crossed a line.
Hallam isn’t just advocating for an impactful protest: he’s saying he’d be relaxed about the knowing, reckless endangerment of life. Wilfully preventing a dying person from getting to hospital for the sake of an ideological belief is all but indistinguishable from domestic terrorism. The police need to crush these protestors, or urgently clarify that motorists are entitled to use reasonable force to remove Insulate Britain ideologues from blocking roads.
“I need to go to the hospital, please let me pass,” one motorist begged, near the entrance to the Blackwall Tunnel in London during the morning rush hour this week, as members of this gang of vanity-driven campaigners prevented ordinary people from going about their lives.
Who would refuse such a request? Only people who care more about their protest than the value of human life.
Some environmentalists might respond by saying that these protestors care more about the planet, not their protest, but such a response ignores three points.
First, just as with the dreadful public polling for Extinction Rebellion, there is no evidence that these protests have anything but a negative impact on public perception of their organisation and its goal.
Second, endangering human life and causing traffic to pile up has no clear environmental benefit.
And, third, it is far from obvious that Insulate Britain have any real conviction beyond seeking publicity. Liam Norton, a “group spokesman”, stormed off Good Morning Britain to accusations of “hypocrisy” rather than tell the audience whether he had even bothered to insulate his own home. The public would be forgiven for concluding that Insulate Britain value little more than attention, and their own vanity project, ahead of human life or any meaningful environmental action.
The problem for our thinly-spread police force and the overladen courts system is that efforts by the authorites to halt Insulate Britain will not stop idiots from blocking roads.
The police, who have more pressing issues to address, obviously cannot be everywhere, and road blocks are by their nature likely to impede the emergency services. Court injunctions risk being either too vague to stop activist lawyers from finding loopholes, or too specific to prevent protestors from disrupting ordinary lives by finding roads that aren’t covered by the orders imposed. A costly, wasteful legal game of cat and mouse while Britain’s roads are continuously disrupted is the last thing we need at a time when the need for emergency healthcare is still so acute, and the pressures on our road haulage infrastructure have never been greater.
What, then, should happen if you find yourself trapped in a protest on your way to a doctor’s appointment, to visit an elderly relative, or just trying to get to your shift?
Social media erupted in celebration of drivers at Wandsworth Bridge who got out of their cars and dragged protestors to the side of the road. In circumstances where an ambulance is trying to get through, or if drivers blocked in traffic are on their way to receive medical treatment, who could blame ordinary members of the public from rolling up their sleeves and removing protestors from the road?
The law already allows individuals to use such force as is reasonable in the circumstances to defend themselves, or in the prevention of a crime. Of course no motorist could ever use their vehicle – a potentially deadly weapon – to move a human blockade, but what court would convict a motorist who picked up one of these trustafairian environmental hobbyists and took them to the pavement? If protestors are stopping medical professionals from attending to the public in a manner likely to cause harm, then their obstruction may also amount to a breach of the peace.
The problem for the general public is the uncertainty caused by a lack of guidance from the police, when there is an obvious solution to the problem caused by these pointless protests. Police forces around the country should issue clear and unambiguous guidance that motorists can use reasonable force to remove the Insulate Britain protestors, explain that they should not under any circumstances use vehicles to do this, and provide people with clarity that if they follow police guidance, they will not be arrested for intervening in a calm and reasonable manner.
This isn’t to advocate vigilante justice, or an invitation for individuals to take the law into their own hands beyond the safe and proportionate removal of these loons from the public highway. Once motorists feel empowered and informed with guidance from police forces, drivers will soon put an end to this disruption, and activists can go back to committing acts of criminal damage against banks, public interpretative dancing, or playing the bongo drums. Whatever puts the jam in their vegan doughnuts, so long as it isn’t at the expense of the lives and welfare of ordinary Britons.