The home secretary is calling on police officers to use new powers of arrest to detain “go-slow” protesters causing chaos on Britain’s road network.
Hundreds of motorists have been deliberately causing blockades in major commuter zones across the country this week, in protest against rising fuel prices. Since Monday morning’s rush-hour, rogue motorists have been causing delays by driving at speeds as low as 10mph along key routes including the M4, the M32, the M180 in Lincolnshire, the A92 in Scotland and the A12 in Essex.
Priti Patel is urging police to arrest the go-slow protesters for “willful obstruction of a highway” – an offence punishable by imprisonment and unlimited fines under tough new laws that were “designed to combat protests by groups such as Extinction Rebellion”, said the Daily Mail.
Who is behind the fuel protests?
The protests are thought to have been organised via social media, through a Facebook group called Fuel Price Stand Against Tax that has more than 50,000 members. The group is calling on motorists to “stand up” against soaring fuel costs.
Petrol hit a new high of 191.5p per litre on Sunday, while the average price of diesel was 199p per litre.
A slow-driving convoy in Shropshire on Monday was organised by Andy Carloman, the head of property maintenance company Total Property Care, according to the Shropshire Star. Carolman told the newspaper that rising fuel prices were a “national problem, particularly for small businesses like myself and for self-employed drivers, the likes of which were on the protest this morning”.
Truck driver Tariq Akram, who drove through Scunthorpe and Doncaster at 20mph, reportedly told the BBC that “his company had added £4,000 to its fuel bill in the past four months because of rising prices”.
The turnout for Monday’s “go-slow” was “absolutely fantastic”, Akram said, adding: “There were 35 vehicles from our yard alone who took part.”
Former HGV driver Vicky Stamper – who joined protesters at Magor services, near Caldicot in Monmouthshire – told The Telegraph that she and her partner had to quit their jobs “because it was costing us £380 a week just to get to and from work”. Stamper said she then lost a job “two weeks ago because the company couldn’t afford to put fuel in that many lorries, so last in, first out”.
What are they demanding?
The protesters have argued that pump prices have remained unjustly high, even though wholesale costs of petrol and diesel have begun to fall following the surge sparked by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February.
Their demands include an immediate cut in fuel duty, a request backed by former Conservative Party deputy chair Robert Halfon. The Conservative MP for Harlow has urged the government to go further than the 5p-a-litre reduction in fuel duty implemented by Rishi Sunak in his Spring Statement.
“I don’t want anything that disrupts people in their ordinary lives,” Halfon told the Daily Mail. “But I’m worried that this is a precursor to even more protests that are going to spread around the UK. If we’re not careful, we’re going to have a Canadian-style situation, with truck drivers descending on Parliament.”
Earlier this year, the mayor of Ottawa was forced to declare a state of emergency following protests led by a group of truckers that was known as the “Freedom Convoy”. Most of the truckers were protesting against the country’s vaccine requirements but fuel prices were also cited as a reason.
The UK protesters’ calls to narrow the gap between wholesale petrol costs and pump prices have been echoed by the FairFuelUK Campaign, which fights “for fairer fuel taxation”.
“These are not just demonstrations against the excruciatingly high petrol and diesel prices that rise each and every day,” said the group’s founder, Howard Cox. “They are also about the sickening chronic manipulation of pump prices and the complete lack of scrutiny by our out of touch government, in allowing unchecked petrol and diesel profiteering to run rife.”
How are police responding?
Police said that 12 people from a convoy on the M4 were arrested yesterday. And another was arrested for “unsafe driving” on the A38 heading northbound from Ivybridge.
The Telegraph reported that protesters would not be arrested as long as “they do not drop their speed below 30mph”.
Under government’s contentious Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act, which received Royal Assent on 28 April, the maximum penality for “willful obstruction of a highway” was increased to an unlimited fine and up to six months in jail.
A Home Office source told the Daily Mail that Patel “would encourage and support the police to make use of all the powers available to them”.
The source added: “Forces need to move people on. These protests are blocking people from getting to work and from carrying out other vital journeys – this is not about whether you believe in the cause or not.”