Liberal Democrat Home Affairs spokesperson, Alistair Carmichael, has called on the Government to reverse its ban on protests of more than two people under new coronavirus restrictions. Mr Carmichael called the move “illiberal”, highlighting the importance of peaceful assembly as part of liberal democracy. Under previous coronavirus restrictions an exemption was made to protect the right to protest, which has now been removed by the Government.
Speaking in the House Mr Carmichael said:
“Last week the Home Secretary ended the exemption in relation to the numbers of people who can take part in a protest, meaning that for the duration of lockdown, the maximum number of people who will be able to demonstrate is now two. Why did the Leader of the House allow that to happen, without her coming to this House to explain why, and why was there not a statement as to why this most egregious and draconian restriction on our liberties was going to be necessary?”
Responding for the Government, Jacob Rees-Mogg MP, Leader of the House said:
“The Prime Minister himself came and made a statement… a large number of restrictions are being imposed, which nobody wishes to impose. Nobody wishes to restrict the freedoms of the British people, it is being done with the support of the opposition benches in response to the coronavirus crisis, and I think that is the answer.”
Reacting after the exchange Mr Carmichael said:
“The right to protest is one of the most important in a liberal democracy and it should not be limited lightly. When restrictions were put in place earlier in the year to combat the pandemic an exemption was made for protests. It is hard to see why that must change now.
“Protesting in the streets is often the last possible step people take to make their voice heard – it does not happen on a whim. Whether it is protests for social justice or against government measures to fight coronavirus, limitations on the right to peaceful assembly impact us all. This is an unjustified and illiberal step that must be reversed.”