Dozens of MPs write to Priti Patel demanding protests should be allowed during Covid crisis amid outrage at Met Police’s handling of Sarah Everard vigil as anti-lockdown campaigners plan to take to the streets today

  • More than 60 MPs signed campaign group Big Brother Watch and Liberty’s letter
  • Steve Baker, Sir Christopher Chope, Sir Ed Davey and Diane Abbott among them
  • They are calling on Ms Patel to tell police to ‘facilitate’ protests amid Covid crisis
  • It comes as protesters are expected to take to the streets across Britain Saturday

Politicians across the House of Commons have called for Priti Patel to change coronavirus legislation to allow protests despite lockdown.

More than 60 MPs joined campaign groups Big Brother Watch and Liberty in writing to the Home Secretary to say it is a human right to demonstrate.

Tories Steve Baker and Sir Christopher Chope as well as Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey and Labour MPs Diane Abbott and Dawn Butler signed the letter.

They are calling on Ms Patel to tell police to ‘facilitate’ protests and avoid forcing them to ‘decipher precisely what is required’.

It comes as activists are expected to take to the streets across Britain again on Saturday as they call for an end to Covid restrictions.

More than 60 MPs joined campaign groups Big Brother Watch and Liberty in writing to the Home Secretary (pictured on Monday) to say it is a human right to demonstrate

Police detain a woman as people gather at a memorial site in Clapham Common Bandstand, following the kidnap and murder of Sarah Everard, in London, on March 13

A demonstration at New Scotland Yard on the embankment in London following the killing of Sarah Everard

The letter said: ‘The absence of clear guidance on these issues has created an entirely unsatisfactory situation, which has persisted to varying degrees for almost a year now.

‘The police have no legal certainty as to their duties and powers, protestors have no legal certainty as to their rights, and there is inconsistent application of the Regulations across the country. This cannot continue.’

But the Home Office doubled down on its position that it is still illegal to leave home without and exemption until March 29.

A spokesman said: ‘While we are still in a pandemic we continue to urge people to avoid mass gatherings, in line with wider coronavirus restrictions.’

There have been constant anti-lockdown protests throughout the pandemic, often attended by conspiracy theorist Piers Corbyn.

But over the last week demonstrations were sparked after the police’s handling of a vigil to Sarah Everard. A policeman is facing a charge of murder and abduction.

Organisers cancelled the service at Clapham Common, London, last weekend, but hundreds still attended and clashed with officers.

The day before they had failed to persuade the High Court to overrule the Met in allowing the event to be held.

The judge ruled he would not intervene but hinted human rights of expression and gathering could be considered acceptable excuses.

On Sunday and Monday people took to the streets of Westminister and gathered outside Downing Street and in Parliament Square in protest.

The letters ACAB – All Cops Are B******s – were scrawled above a list honouring the airmen who died in the Second World War battle on Tuesday

The protests were sparked by the murder of Sarah Everard and are being led by a feminist group accused of ‘hijacking’ her death on Tuesday

Which MPs and Peers signed Liberty and Big Brother Watch’s letter to Home Secretary Priti Patel?

Director of Big Brother Watch Silkie Carlo said: ‘The harrowing scenes of police officers using force against women at Clapham Common recently were avoidable and wrong.

‘Over the past week, many more demonstrators and even legal observers have been arrested or fined.

‘This stain on our democracy is a direct consequence of this government’s disrespect for the most basic of British democratic freedoms.’

Sam Grant from Liberty added: ‘Last week, the police conceded protest is not banned under the lockdown regulations, but used them to threaten then arrest demonstrators anyway.

‘The home secretary must immediately issue guidance to all police forces to ensure socially distanced protests can go ahead and create an explicit exemption for protest in the current regulations.’

Ms Patel has asked Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary to ‘conduct a lessons-learned review into the policing of the event’ at Clapham Common.

More protests are expected this weekend but the Met said a ‘significant policing operation’ will be underway to ‘engage’ with lockdown flouters.

It added: ‘Those gathering will be encouraged to return home. If they do not they face necessary and proportionate enforcement action. This could be a fixed penalty notice or arrest.’

Dame Cressida Dick’s tenure as chief of the Metropolitan Police is ‘unlikely’ to be renewed following the anger over her officers’ handling of Sarah Everard’s vigil.

Ms Patel is not expected to extend her contract at Scotland Yard when it expires in April next year, government sources claimed last night.

Britain’s most senior officer has been put on notice after widespread condemnation of how the Clapham Common memorial was policed last weekend.

Officers arrested and pinned down women attending the event in honour of the 33-year-old marketing executive Ms Everard.

Dame Cressida faced calls to quit from across the political spectrum and was criticised by both the Home Secretary and Mayor of London Sadiq Khan.

Ms Patel said she was ‘shocked at the way in which Saturday night’s vigil was policed’, while Mr Khan was ‘not satisfied’ with Dame Cressida’s explanation.

Yet she refused to bow to pressure and lambasted ‘armchair’ critics who she said failed to grasp the complexities of policing during the pandemic.

But insiders believe last week’s saga was the final straw in what is being viewed in government as a mounting catalogue of blunders.

Dame Cressida came under fire last year for her handling of London’s Black Lives Matter protests, which spiralled into chaos and saw violence.

A source told The Times: ‘Cressida is not seen as having done a great job… The general expectation is that her contract won’t be extended.’

Ms Patel said she retained ‘full confidence’ in the Met comissioner and the source stressed the pair have a strong working relationship.

Priti Patel (left) is not expected to extend Dame Cressida Dick’s (right) contract at Scotland Yard when it expires in April next year, government sources claimed last night

In the wake of the protests Mr Khan, who is up for reelection in May, said he did not believe the capital’s streets were safe for young women.

He told LBC: ‘No, they aren’t – or for girls – and it’s really important that people of my gender understand that.

‘If you’re a woman or a girl, your experiences of our city, in any public space, whether it’s in the workplace on the streets, on public transport is very different to if you are a man or a boy, and it’s really important that people like me in positions of power and influence understand that and take steps to address that.’

After last week’s protests Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey called on the Commissioner to ‘consider’ her leadership of the force, adding: ‘Cressida Dick has lost the confidence of the millions of women in London and should resign.’

Women’s Equality Party co-founder Catherine Mayer said her position was ‘untenable’.       

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