The government is encouraging the police to use anti-terrorism powers to “deal robustly” with the climate protesters at Heathrow airport, according to a Guardian report. From the Met’s own planning document:
Should individuals or small groups seek to take action outside of lawful protest they will be dealt with robustly using terrorism powers. This is because the presence of large numbers of protesters at or near the airport will reduce our ability to proactively counter the terrorist act [sic].
The police report makes it clear that the government has encouraged police forces to make greater use of terrorism powers “especially the use of stop and search powers under s44 Terrorism Act 2000”.
That the police plan to stop any unlawful disruption to the airport is no more than their job, and always has been. But the “robust” response they promise, using the counter-terrorism laws, would presumably be unlawful without them.
No one claims that the protesters contemplate terrorism. The police claim instead that disruption at the airport will interfere with their ability to deal with terrorist threats generally. Well, what wouldn’t? On this argument anything that might distract attention from preventing terrorism qualifies for a police response gusting from “robust” to the otherwise unlawful.
It is in the nature of political protest to inconvenience and distract people. Cheap flights seem to be the rock on which our climate concerns founder, and it is precisely to this that the protesters mean to draw attention. In response, the police menacingly suggest a response violent enough to require the absolution of the anti-terrorism laws.
Thousands of holidaymakers, already frustrated by the limits of Heathrow’s ability to dispatch them, will be grateful to the government for using overwhelming force to protect their on-time departures. The rest of us, contemplating the dimming prospects for political protest and the growing habit of conflating it with terrorism, can only tremble.
We cannot extend police powers without expecting the police and government to make every convenient use of them. This, not climate protest, is what needs stamping on. Robustly.