Police speak to Steve Bray before seizing his amplifiers outside Parliament. Image: Steve Bray/Twitter
Steve Bray, the well-known anti-Brexit activist from Port Talbot, South Wales, felt the full force of the new policing bill when around 20 officers approached him near Parliament Square and seized his sound system on June 28.
Bray, aka ‘Stop Brexit Man’, has been a regular fixture at Westminster for years, confronting ministers and playing protest songs.
Just hours after the right to ‘noisy’ protests had been outlawed in Britain, the activist posted videos on Twitter of him struggling with officers and saying “hands off” as they took his equipment away.
The anti-Brexit campaigner said that officers cited the new Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act to say “noisy protest” was prohibited within a designated area outside parliament.
“We did everything we could to hang on to them, but more and more police came and there is only so long you can hold on to something,” Bray told Reuters.
The Metropolitan Police said Bray was reported over the incident, meaning he will be considered for prosecution.
Following the altercation, Steve Bray described the new law as “fascist”.
“Under this new law, this fascist law that’s been rushed through parliament, taking away our rights to protest, they want protestors to just stand there with their hands folded,” he said.
“But protest is all about sound and vision, without that you’re not a protest, but they don’t want dissent and they don’t like me,” he said.
Referring to the equipment the police had seized, the activist added: “I’ve been told that I have been summoned and I’ll have to go to court and they’re being held as evidence, I’m gonna elect trial by jury and let’s hope it’s 12 Remainers.”
Some of the most controversial measures of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill relate to a series of changes to the way protests are policed.
Prior to the introduction of the Bill, police, if they wanted to restrict a protest, would generally have to show it may result in “serious public disorder, serious damage to property, or serious disruption to the life of the community.”
But the new law empowers police to enforce more conditions at static protests, including imposing a start and finish times, setting noise limits, and applying the rules to a demonstration by just one person.
The video footage of uniformed officers surrounding the protestor and confiscating his speakers sparked immediate reaction, with many sharing support towards Bray and hostility of the new policing powers.
Among the bill’s critics is Ian Byrne, Labour MP for Liverpool West Derby, who tweeted: “Steve Bray protests every week under my office window blasting out the same tunes on repeat so believe me, I more than most should be relieved… But I’m not – I’m horrified his right to protest is being removed by this awful legislation and government. He is absolutely spot on.”
Another leading criticism of the new legislation is that MPs and peers are creating a “hostile environment” for peaceful protests. The Human Rights Committee is calling for key measures in the bill to be scrapped or watered down because laws would have a “chilling effect” on people in England and Wales seeking to exercise their legitimate democratic rights and on freedom of speech.
Officers’ reaction to Steve Bray’s one-man protest at Westminster on the same day the legislation was enforced drew such criticism.
Responding to the notion that Steve Bray had been conducting a violent protest, as tweeted by Conservative grandee Andrea Leadsom MP, who said the action by the police to “stop his violent protest is very welcome,” podcaster and radio presenter James O’Brien, tweeted: “Violent? You didn’t need new laws to deal with ‘violent’ protests but you did need new laws to curtail Steve Bray’s freedom of speech. What an outrageous and unintentionally illuminating slur. Shame on you.”
Jun Pang, policy and campaigns officer at Liberty, an advocacy group that challenges unjust laws and protects civil liberties, said rather than being a gift from the state, protest is a “fundamental right.”
“Protests are by nature noisy and disruptive … As the government tries to push through further attacks on protest in the public order bill and the rights removal bill, we must all oppose these measures that will make it much harder for us all to stand up for what we believe in,” Pang said.
Speaking to the Big Issue about the new policing powers, Mark Johnson, legal and policy officer at UK civil liberties campaign group Big Brother Watch, said: “The commencement of new anti-protest measures under the PCSC Act mark a dark day for British democracy. It is deeply concerning to see officers jump to use them from day one.
“This anti-protest law vastly expands police powers without justification. Under the Act, officers will be able to restrict protests deemed to be too noisy, impose greater limits on static assemblies and curtail ‘one-person protests’. The law also makes it much harder to protest in Parliament square, shielding those in power from dissent.
“These new powers are entirely disproportionate and pose a dangerous threat to civil liberties in the UK,” Johnson continued.
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