‘If and when 10,000 people sit in a street and refuse to be moved, then what the police will ‘allow’ is neither here nor there’
The climate change activist group said the matter would likely be ”out of their hands, however hard they try to arrest us”.
The group is planning demonstrations on a bigger scale than those in April, when they occupied four sites in the capital for 11 days with one of the UK’s largest civil disobedience campaigns in decades.
Deputy assistant commissioner Laurence Taylor of London’s Metropolitan Police told reporters those protests had been ”wholly unacceptable”.
He said: “It went well beyond the realm of what was reasonable and we would not tolerate that level of disruption again.”
In response, Extinction Rebellion spokesperson Rupert Read told The Independent his comments were “interesting”.
He said: “When masses of people take non-violent direct action, the matter is no longer entirely in the police’s hands. If and when 10,000 people sit in a street and refuse to be moved, then what the police will ‘allow’ is neither here nor there. There aren’t enough of them to arrest us all and when they arrest some of us, others take their place.”
Police said they had been forced to divert officers from tackling crime and policing neighbourhoods to deal with April’s protests – which saw a pink boat block Oxford Circus and Waterloo Bridge fitted with greenery and skateboard ramps.
Activists called it “Garden Bridge”.
Mr Taylor said officers arrested more than 1,150 people during the protests and around 180 have been charged so far. He has previously said he wants the Met to push for every one of those arrested to be charged.
“We absolutely respect people’s fundamental right to protest, but we do not accept that extends to causing misery and mass disruption to everybody,” Mr Taylor said. “Absolutely I can assure Londoners we will do everything we can to avoid that situation again.”
But Mr Read said “any disruption that we cause is just a vanishingly-small fraction of the disruption to our entire civilisation and utter misery that ecological breakdown and climate breakdown are starting to bring.”
He added: “Blocking a few streets or even closing an airport for a while does not begin to compare with the permanent flooding of those streets or to super-hurricanes or tornados.”
Extinction Rebellion, which has won the backing of scientists, researchers and academics who worry that the official response to climate change is lagging far behind the severity of the crisis, has said it hopes to cause even greater disruption in October than it did in April.
During its “spring uprising” protesters stopped trains, defaced the offices of oil major Shell and demonstrated outside Goldman Sachs.
If double the numbers turn out in autumn “then it doesn’t much matter what Mr Taylor will ‘allow’,” Mr Read said.
“He and his policemen will have to find some way or other to deal with even huger numbers of people willing to face arrest, in this most vital of causes: saving our beautiful planetary home from ecocidal destruction that increasingly threatens our society with meltdown.”
Mr Taylor also warned the group against any attempt to disrupt London’s Heathrow Airport.
Extinction Rebellion has said it is considering a plan to force the airport to ground flights by flying drones at head height in an exclusion zone outside the perimeter to avoid posing any danger to aircraft.
“We will absolutely not tolerate incursions into the airport, endangering the aircraft or disrupting the daily management of Heathrow,” Mr Taylor said.
The group has sought to maintain momentum this week by holding a “summer uprising” of smaller-scale protests in London, Leeds, Glasgow, Cardiff and Bristol.
Six activists were arrested earlier this week after the group disrupted London Concrete, the capital’s biggest supplier of ready-mixed concrete.