A police chief has insisted a ban on Extinction Rebellion Autumn Uprising climate change protests is legal and warned activists planning to gather at Trafalgar Square that they face arrest.
Deputy Assistant Commissioner Laurence Taylor, who is leading the policing of the demonstrations, said he is “completely comfortable” with the action the force has taken.
XR has called on supporters to gather in Trafalgar Square on Wednesday afternoon in defiance of the ban, which Mr Taylor warned will leave them liable to arrest.
Lawyers for the group were at the High Court on Wednesday to apply for a judicial review of the ban amid claims that the order is not legal and breaches the right to protest.
Mr Taylor said: “We are very confident that what we’ve done is entirely lawful, entirely proportionate in the circumstances, and we are completely comfortable with the position that we maintain.”
The force used section 14 of the Public Order Act initially to restrict the protest action to Trafalgar Square, but following “continued breaches” of the order officers moved in to clear the area.
Any assembly of more than two people linked to the XR Autumn Uprising action is now illegal in London.
Activists have defied the ban, with visits to the offices of Google and YouTube, as well as a rally at Trafalgar Square.
So far 1,642 protesters have been arrested, and 133 charged. XR’s stated tactics are to overwhelm the capacity in police custody, including by refusing bail after being arrested.
Asked whether officers will arrest everyone who attends Trafalgar Square on Wednesday in defiance of the section 14 order, Mr Taylor said: “We will take a balanced and proportionate response to whatever we’re faced with, as we have done since Monday.
“If people do assemble at Trafalgar Square they are clearly in breach of the section 14 conditions and are therefore liable to arrest.
“As with all policing we will review the situation and will make decisions that are appropriate to those circumstances. But people, if they gather there, are liable to arrest.”
Environmental journalist and campaigner George Monbiot was aiming to get arrested at Trafalgar Square.
Commissioner Cressida Dick said the mass protest action, that began on October 7, has taken a toll on the force.
She said: “Extinction Rebellion has placed a big toll on us. We’ve had thousands of officers engaged on that protest.
“The protesters have done everything they can to slow us down, make it more difficult for us to clear the streets by locking on, sometimes in such a manner that it takes four or five hours just to remove two people.
“They have insisted that they want to get arrested, many of them, so we’ve had to arrest already about 1,500. We’ve had to bring in officers and staff from other police services to assist us.
“All this takes my people away from their daily core job. For many of them that would include knife crime and dealing with knife crime in the local area.
“It does take a toll.”
On Thursday XR activists plan to target the Tube network, which Mr Taylor called “unacceptable”.
He said: “Tomorrow Extinction Rebellion have explicitly said they intend to target the Underground network.
“That will cause huge disruption for London and we consider that wholly unacceptable, and obviously will be policing that with our partners at British Transport Police.
“It will cause a huge impact to London and all the commuters and everybody using the Underground network. Obviously we will be policing that proactively and robustly.”
Julian Thompson, from XR, said: “We have been on the streets to demand that the Government produces a plan to deal with the climate and ecological emergency.
“The Government’s silence is deafening, with no mention of it in the Queen’s Speech, which is their programme for government for the year.
“At a time when it’s more important than ever to peacefully assemble and protest on these emergencies, we are now at risk of being silenced by the authorities.
“This is a dangerous precedent. We need more democracy, not less.”
A Government spokesman said: “The UK is already taking world-leading action to combat climate change as the first major economy to legislate to end our contribution to global warming entirely by 2050.
“While we share people’s concerns about global warming, and respect the right to peaceful protest, it should not disrupt people’s day-to-day lives.”