Met backs down on refusal to police climate and women's marches
Scotland Yard reverses earlier decision not to police Time to Act and Million Women Rise marches, after criticism from campaigners and Boris Johnson
The ‘People’s Climate March’ in London last year was attended by 40,000 people as part of a global day of action. Photograph: Nils Jorgensen/Rex Features
The London Metropolitan Police have backed down on their refusal to police two protest marches next month after criticism from campaigners and London mayor Boris Johnson.
But the police maintained that protesters have no ongoing right to assistance from Scotland Yard and future protests remain in doubt.
The Met had previously told organisers from the Campaign against Climate Change (CACC) and Million Women Rise (MWR) that they would have to hire a private firm to organise traffic management, road closures, barriers and stewards for two separate protests on 7 March. Protest groups said the move amounted to an assault on the right to protest.
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On Wednesday the Met told CACC that they would facilitate their protest in the same way they have in the past.
“An agreement was reached with the organisers to ensure that the event will take place. They have agreed to provide stewards for the event, traffic authorities have agreed to write a temporary traffic regulation order to facilitate road closures,” said a police statement. The Guardian understands that the MWR march has also been cleared by the Met.
The Met said the u-turn did not represent a change in policy and managing protests fell “beyond our policing responsibility”.
Future marches will have to negotiate with the police in order to secure their services.
The Met cited budgetary constraints for its original decision to cease its support for protesters.
The move attracted criticism from campaigners, politicians and legal experts. More than 60,000 people signed an online Avaaz campaign calling on the Met to reverse their policy and twelve campaign groups told the Met that they refused to pay private firms to manage protests. The CACC and MWR said they had received indications from traffic management companies that their involvement would cost several thousands of pounds.
Lindsay Alderton, an organiser for the CACC said: “We were deeply alarmed to find ourselves, two months before an election, at risk of not being able to express these basic democratic rights at our protest on 7 March. The privitisation of protest would have veered dangerously towards a situation where only those with money would be able to pay for the privilege.”
Under questioning from Greens London Assembly member Jenny Jones, Mayor Johnson said on Monday he did not agree with the Met’s stance and he was trying to talk them down.
“I’m in discussion with the Met about that. And for your guidance and the assembly’s guidance, I’m very much of the view that the police do a fantastic job of managing about 5,000 protests of one kind or another every year. I think it’s important that they should continue to do so.”
He said the withdrawal of police from peaceful marches may encourage “the opposite result”.
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“I’m concerned that that should not be the way forward. I’m probably at one with you Jenny in wanting to see the Met continue to police protests in London,” said Johnson.
Jones said: “The Met police have got themselves into a mess on this. It’s obvious they didn’t discuss the decision with the Mayor, who clearly disagrees with them, and they certainly didn’t think through the impact on the part of their job that means they must facilitate the democratic process. It’s a cost-cutting move that has backfired.”
The People’s Assembly has an anti-austerity march planned for June. National secretary Sam Fairbairn said they have been told by the City of London Police that their policy was in line with the Met and their march would not receive police support.
“We’ll shut the roads ourselves if we have to,” Fairbairn told the Guardian.
From the Guardian