Image source, PA Media
Image caption, Anti-monarchy groups are being told they have the right to protest but not to disrupt others
By Oliver Slow & Dominic Casciani
Anti-monarchy groups will be allowed to protest at the King’s Coronation, security minister Tom Tugendhat told the BBC’s Today programme.
His comments came after one group planning a demonstration on the Coronation route was warned of new laws banning “serious disruption”.
Republic, which campaigns to abolish the monarchy, accused the Home Office of sending an intimidatory message.
It comes as the Met details security measures in place this weekend.
The operation around the Coronation will be one of the largest in the history of the Metropolitan Police, with protests and any threats to crowds to be closely monitored.
The Public Order Act came into effect on Wednesday and days beforehand, officials from the Home Office’s Police Powers Unit wrote two letters to Republic to list how it had tightened laws on the right to protest.
Republic is co-ordinating demonstrations across the UK and has held talks with the Met over a protest in London’s Trafalgar Square, as the King’s procession passes.
It says police chiefs have accepted its demonstration is lawful and peaceful.
The group hopes up to 1,700 supporters will gather around the statue of Charles I, who was beheaded in 1649, and hold yellow placards declaring “Not My King”.
A Home Office letter sent on 28 April does not mention the protest, but the unnamed official tells Republic: “I would be grateful if you could publicise and forward this letter to your members who are likely to be affected by these legislative changes.”
Graham Smith, the organisation’s chief, described that letter as “intimidatory”.
He said there had been two constructive face-to-face meetings with Scotland Yard’s public order commander, who had been entirely satisfied that the plan was legal and peaceful.
Mr Smith said: “We have gone through our plans – where we are going to be, what placards we have, and that we have no intention of doing anything disruptive. The police have repeatedly said they have no concerns about our plans and we can turn up and do what we are planning.
“The tone and the anonymity [of the 28 April letter] feels like a passive-aggressive attempt to put us off. I don’t know why the Home Office has sent this, given it’s the police’s job to police. The lawyers were perplexed why it was sent.”
Downing Street has said the “right to protest is fundamental”, with Rishi Sunak’s spokesperson saying the prime minister “would hope that everyone would come together and recognise this is a moment of national unity”.
Defending the Home Office letters, Mr Tugendhat told the BBC that anti-monarchy groups have the “liberty that anybody in the United Kingdom has to protest, what they don’t have the liberty to do is to disrupt others”.
He added that the complexity of the security operation for the Coronation was heightened by the presence of foreign leaders.
“It’s perfectly possible that we’re dealing with protest groups that have nothing to do with the UK, but are seeking to protest against a foreign leader who’s visiting, or seeking to make a complaint about something that’s happening hundreds or thousands of miles away,” he said.
Mr Tugendhat refused to discuss what actions could be punished at the Coronation “for fear of encouraging people to find loopholes”, but said they were introduced in response to protests in the UK becoming “disruptive” and “intrusive”.
Image source, Reuters
Image caption, Officers are being drafted in from forces elsewhere in the country to bolster policing numbers
The Met said more than 11,500 police will be on duty in London on Saturday – including 9,000 on the procession route between Buckingham Palace and Westminster Abbey – and almost 30,000 involved in total in the lead-up and Bank Holiday weekend.
Firearms officers will be ready to respond to any incidents, alongside marine support on the Thames, the dogs unit and Special Constabulary officers.
Around 1,000 officers are being drafted in from forces elsewhere in the country to bolster numbers.
The Met said in a statement that its “tolerance for any disruption” would be low, and that it will “deal robustly with anyone intent on undermining this celebration”.
Precautions are likely to be on a similar scale to the security operation surrounding the Queen’s funeral, which saw armed officers stationed on top of buildings monitoring the crowds.
Central London is already being scoured and areas where explosive devices could be hidden, such as under manhole covers or inside lamp-posts, will be repeatedly checked.
The Met will use live facial recognition cameras which scan faces and search for matches against a watch list – in this case, police say, people whose presence would “raise public protection concerns” including those wanted for arrest or have outstanding warrants.
Civil liberties campaigners have deep concerns about the technology – accusing it of being inaccurate and of little policing benefit. Madeleine Stone of Big Brother Watch said “thousands of innocent people attending this historic event must not be treated like suspects in a line-up.”
New protest laws
The 2023 Public Order Act is the government’s second major piece of legislation changing protest laws in under two years.
In 2022 MPs voted to place greater restrictions on public processions if they are too noisy.
The new act goes further:
Protesters who interfere with “key national infrastructure” including roads and railways can face 12 months in jail. Anyone who fixes themselves to an object or building to create an immovable obstacle, a tactic known as “locking on”, could be jailed for six months. The law bans protesters from committing acts of “serious disruption” – meaning demonstrations which prevent people going about their day-to-day activities. Other new offences include up to three years in jail for tunnelling as part of a protest. Police will also have new powers to search people for super-glues and padlocks. The Home Office describes the laws as “sensible and proportionate measures” in response to actions by groups such Just Stop Oil and Insulate Britain that have caused “serious disruption”.
Just Stop Oil called the bill “the latest in a string of increasingly repressive laws, enabling police to make any protest illegal before it has even happened”.
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