Insulate Britain motorway protests shift to the M1 in London and M4 at Heathrow

Court’s attempt to deter actions with contempt threat fails, leaving drivers bearing the brunt of protests again

Insulate Britain protesters are continuing to ignore a court injunction barring them from blocking the nation’s motorways, with groups targeting both the M1 and M4 today – 1 October.

“Approximately 30 people from Insulate Britain have blocked roundabouts on the motorway network today,” the group says on its website. They blocked the M4 at Junction 3 and the M1 at Junction 1, repeating the demand that “Boris gets on with the job of insulating Britain’s homes”.

The latest protest is the tenth in a few weeks, and there’s no sign that Insulate Britain campaigners have been deterred by the court injunction obtained by National Highways designed to prevent them causing havoc on the motorways. “Eight people were released from custody on Thursday after blocking the M25 at Junction 30 and they have returned, with others arrested earlier in the week,” the group says. 

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Last week Insulate Britain switched its campaign from the M25 motorway to the Port of Dover, days after the government was granted the injunction that sought to put motorway protesters in contempt of court.

"We are blocking Dover this morning to highlight that fuel poverty is killing people in Dover and across the UK,” the group said. “We need a Churchillian response: we must tell the truth about the urgent horror of the Climate Emergency. Change at the necessary speed and scale requires economic disruption. We wish it wasn't true, but it is. It’s why the 2000 fuel protests got a U-turn in policy and gave Blair his biggest challenge as Prime Minister.”   

Insulate Britain’s protests have been condemned by government and the police, and the National Highways court action means protestors venturing onto motorways risk jail time.

“Invading a motorway is reckless and puts lives at risk,” transport minister Grant Shapps announced via twitter. “I asked National Highways to seek an injunction against M25 protestors which a judge granted.” However the current injunction does not apply to A-roads or any other, including the Dover approaches.

Priti Patel has also announced plans to create a new offence of “public nuisance” as part of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, giving police “the powers to better manage such disruptive demonstrations in future”. 

Insulate Britain is campaigning for the taxpayer to fund the insulation of all social housing in Britain by 2025 and making other demands relating to eco-housing. It has justified its actions saying “campaigning within the law has not worked” and that it had “no alternative” but to illegally block roads.

While a large number of protestors have been arrested, videos on social media have also shown police standing between the offenders and the traffic without intervening, prompting criticism from groups such as the Association of British Drivers (ABD) that action was not taken swiftly. 

The National Police Chief’s Council (NPCC) told Auto Express that tactics for dealing with protests are decided by the commander on the ground and vary depending on the individual circumstances of the protest. Police have previously used intelligence-gathering tactics to counteract planned disruptive protests. 

Announcing her plans for a more uniform approach to dealing with disruptive protests, Patel said: “Peaceful protest is a cornerstone of our democracy and there will always be space for legitimate groups to make their voices heard. 

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“But this Government will not stand by and allow a small minority of selfish protestors to cause significant disruption to the lives and livelihoods of the hard-working majority.” 

Patel said “guerilla tactics” would only detract from Insulate Britain’s ultimate cause, adding that the M25 protest was “completely unacceptable”. 

She added: “The police have our full support. They must uphold the law and take decisive action.” 

Hugh Bladon, co-founder of the ABD, warned that it would “certainly be the case” that more road-blocking protests would take place in future if action were not taken, and said the measures announced by the Home Secretary were “long overdue”. 

He said: “I agree with Patel in that she’s doing the right thing”, but added that it would be “absolutely ridiculous” to arrest disruptive protestors and then release them without charge. 

Do the police have powers to remove protesters? 

At present, wilfully obstructing a public highway is an offence under the Highways Act 1980. Those found guilty can be given a maximum fine of £1,000. 

Kent Police told Auto Express that when dealing with a human roadblock, officers will speak to protestors and determine how long they aim to continue. If disruption is planned for a few minutes, the police may wait it out, but longer protests have to be dealt with more actively. 

The police have the power to remove protestors from the road and arrest them, but the challenge lies in ensuring no one is injured in the process. This is especially difficult when protestors physically attach themselves to surfaces or objects using glue, for example.

Do you agree with the protestors? Let us know in the comments below…

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