National Highways has been granted an injunction against protesters who have been blocking sections of the M25.
Following the announcement, Insulate Britain activists blocked a road outside the Home Office in central London.
The injunction comes into effect today and means anyone breaching the order could face a prison sentence, the transport secretary has said.
In a tweet, Grant Shapps wrote: “Invading a motorway is reckless & puts lives at risk.
“I asked National Highways to seek an injunction against M25 protestors which a judge granted last night. Effective later today, activists will face contempt of court with possible imprisonment if they flout.”
Invading a motorway is reckless & puts lives at risk. I asked National Highways to seek an injunction against M25 protestors which a judge granted last night. Effective later today, activists will face contempt of court with possible imprisonment if they flout.
— Rt Hon Grant Shapps MP (@grantshapps) September 22, 2021
Speaking to the Transport Committee on Wednesday morning, Mr Shapps said the police are “stepping up their action”, adding that sometimes it is the “same protesters going back again a few days later”.
“The powers don’t allow for police to hold people for more than 24 hours, and that’s creating problems,” he added.
He said it was “unacceptable” for protesters to block the road and that it was “bloody dangerous” as well as “counterproductive – it actually creates pollution, having traffic standing still”.
Addressing the House of Commons on Wednesday, Home Office minister Kit Malthouse confirmed the move, adding efforts are ongoing to secure a “full injunction later this week”.
He told MPs: “This injunction prohibits people from blocking, endangering, slowing down, obstructing or otherwise preventing the free flow of traffic on the M25.
“If they breach the injunction or encourage or help others to do so, people will be held in contempt of court and may be imprisoned or fined. The fine is unlimited.
“This should act as a major deterrent and recognises this law-breaking is serious with consequences that match the offending.”
He told MPs that at least 270 arrests have been made in recent days in connection with protests on major roads.
“Delays caused by protests between 13 and 17 September have cost drivers in excess of half a million pounds, and that figure does not take into account the knock-on effect for the local road network, for manufacturing businesses, or those who miss their connections at ports,” he added.
Conservative MP Lee Anderson called for the police to have a zero-tolerance approach towards the protesters, and described the injunction as “welcomed news”.
He added: “Does the minister agree with me the police should now adopt a zero-tolerance approach and as soon one as of these morons steps foot on the motorway they should be carted off in an electric police van and locked up in a fully insulated cell?”
The demonstrators are calling on the government to insulate all of “Britain’s 29 million leaky homes by 2030 and all social housing by 2025”.
Spokesperson Liam Norton added: “The idea that people would suddenly decide insulating our leaky homes is a bad idea as a result of our campaign is frankly laughable.
“We are simply asking the government to get on the job. The people of Britain understand that climate change is a severe threat to everything they hold dear.”
Priti Patel said the “important injunction” would mean “people can get moving again” on the M25.
“We will not tolerate lives being put at risk,” the home secretary said. “Those who continue to do so risk imprisonment.”
Their comments come after Surrey Police arrested 38 protesters from environmental activist group Insulate Britain which targeted junctions 9 and 10 of Britain’s busiest motorway before 8am on Tuesday.
Footage circulating on social media showed activists walking on to the motorway and sitting down on the ground in front of moving traffic.
Some then held up “Insulate Britain” banners and poured blue paint on to the road, before being dragged away by police.
In a column published in the Daily Mail today with Mr Shapps, Ms Patel said the Home Office is working with National Highways to take legal action against the Insulate Britain group in a bid to “ensure they cannot keep disrupting and endangering people’s lives”.
The pair condemned the tactics of the protesters and said police have their support to take “decisive action” against any future disruptive demonstrations.
They wrote: “[The protesters] have broken the law, undermined the cause they believe in, alienated the public, and created extra pollution, in one of the most self-defeating environmental protests this country has ever seen.
“We are giving [police] powers to better manage such guerrilla tactics in future.
“In the medium-term, the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill will put public nuisance on a statutory footing, ensuring there are appropriate sentences for the harm caused.”
Insulate Britain confirmed it led the demonstration on Tuesday, saying more people had joined its campaign to improve home insulation in addition to the others who have been involved in protests in Hertfordshire, Kent, Essex and Surrey over the past fortnight.
The group added that the recent rise in gas and electricity costs has “increased the urgency” for change and vowed to end its campaign as soon as it hears a “meaningful commitment” to its demands.
It said in a statement: “We understand that an injunction was granted against Insulate Britain in the High Court last night. We do not know the terms of the injunction and right now our campaign goes on.
“We appreciate that (Home Secretary) Priti Patel is in a difficult position. Like her, our biggest concern is law and order and our national security. In focusing on us, Priti Patel is missing the bigger picture.
“Currently 8,500 people a year die unnecessarily in the UK because of their frozen homes and climate collapse presents an incalculable threat to our way of life.
“A more measured way in which she could discharge her ministerial responsibility would be to ask the Prime Minister to start the process of insulating Britain’s leaky homes.”
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