Theresa May urges Priti Patel to reconsider policing bill: 'our freedoms depend on it' 7 months ago

Theresa May urges Priti Patel to reconsider policing bill: 'our freedoms depend on it'

The former home secretary and former prime minister has warned the home secretary over her new bill that will curtail the rights to protest

In parliament yesterday, Theresa May said she  “would urge the government to consider carefully the need to walk a fine line between being popular and being populist.

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“Our freedoms depend on it.” 

These words are significant - given they come from May, who presided over the draconian “hostile environment” while home secretary, and achieved notoriety with her “Go Home” vans. 

The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill has been the source of much controversy this week over the sections of it which seek to curtail rights to protest. 

It places new restrictions on our right to protest - including allowing the police to set start and finish times, set noise limits, and restrict protests that are deemed to be a nuisance.

What qualifies as breaches of the law is decided at the discretion of the police, and breaches can result in £2,500 fines - or even 10 years in prison for damaging a statue. 

May said: “I do worry about the potential unintended consequences of some of the measures in the Bill which have been drawn quite widely. 

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“Protests have to be under the rule of law, but the law has to be proportionate.”

Unsurprisingly, the legislation has garnered criticism from a variety of opposition parties. 

Shadow home secretary, Nick Thomas-Symonds, said the legislation will cause “great damage to our democracy.” 

He said: “We on these benches will oppose a bill that puts at risk the whole right to protest - hard won by previous generations - that is part of the fabric of British democracy.”

The bill has become especially controversial following the distressing scenes of police manhandling women at a vigil for Sarah Everard.

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A large protest brought Westminster Bridge to a standstill last night after protestors took to the streets in outrage over the legislation.

It has also drawn ire over the fact that vandalising a statue comes with a tougher jail sentence than rape.

Despite the backlash, the government have fiercely defended the legislation against criticism. 

“This bill will give police the powers to take a more proactive approach in tackling dangerous and disruptive protest,” Patel told the Commons.

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“The threshold at which the police can impose conditions on the use of noise at a protest is rightfully high.

“The majority of protesters will be able to continue to act, make noise as they do so now, without police intervention. 

"But we are changing it to allow the police to put conditions on noisy protest that cause significant disruption to those in the vicinity. 

“As with all our proposals, the police response will still need to be proportionate.”

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The legislation is being debated in parliament today.