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A furious Home Secretary chaired a meeting of chief police officers after public anger over the way Insulate Britain ‑ an offshoot of the extremist Extinction Rebellion environmental activist group ‑ blocked drivers at rush hour on the M25 last week. Sources have said that Ms Patel gave senior police chiefs a dressing down after they failed to order their officers to clear the protests and allow traffic to run.
Instead there were images of the police staring at protesters and even chatting with them and having a cup of tea but failing to clear the slip roads.
Sources close to the Home Secretary said: “Priti told the police in no uncertain terms that these protests are completely unacceptable and expressed her frustration that the lives of the law-abiding majority were being disrupted by the actions of an extreme minority.”
The source added: “She also told them ‘no tea and chit chat’.”
The meeting took place on a Friday morning call chaired by the Home Secretary which also included Steve House from the Metropolitan Police Force and Owen Weatherill from the National Police Chiefs Council.
The police updated on the operational picture, as well as on some of the tactics the protestors were using such as gluing themselves to the ground and to each other and using lock-on tactics which made moving them difficult.
The senior officers also set out that over 200 arrests had been made this week, with 60 today since the Home Secretary’s intervention last night.
But Ms Patel made it clear she did not think that the police had done enough.
According to a source she “was very clear she would back the police in taking robust action to deter any future disruption, and will always give the police the powers they need to do their jobs effectively.”
She is also said to have pressed Chief Constables on if they needed additional powers and tools to deal with these types of protest as the British people expected the police to act decisively in situations such as these.
Ms Patel also discussed measures she is bringing in with the new Police, Crime, Courts and Sentencing Bill which will allow the police to take a more proactive approach in managing highly disruptive protests causing serious disruption to the public.
Opposition parties including Labour have claimed that the new measures will harm the freedoms of individuals to protest.
But Ms Patel has publicly warned that Extinction Rebellion protests have underlined that current laws on protests are out of date in the extreme measures they have taken to shut transport down and bring London and other cities to a halt.
Earlier this year she told the Sunday Express that the protesters were “a blight” on the country.
She said: “When they can bring a cornerstone of our democracy to a grinding halt when newspapers can’t be printed and distributed because they have wired themselves up to lorries in dangerous positions or they have built scaffolding out of bamboo polls and they are suspending themselves from it, where there is threat to life and they are using guerilla tactics which can endanger the lives of others it is unacceptable. That is undermining our way of life and our freedoms.”
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