Extinction Rebellion wants to prohibit the use of water cannons during climate protests on the A12 highway through legal means. The activist group announced on Monday that it will file summary proceedings against the State. A spokesperson stated that the summons will be issued on Monday or Tuesday, after which the court date for the lawsuit will be determined.
The group’s lawyer, Willem Jebbink, described the deployment of the water cannon as “completely unnecessary and disproportionate.” He pointed out that protestors are being hit with a forceful stream of water, even when there is no indication of a threatening or dangerous situation. “Water cannons are weapons and are now causing injuries. Protestors are being blasted across the road surface, sustaining bruises from the force of the stream.”
Jebbink stated that the water cannon’s pressure on Saturday was so intense that activists had to shield their kidneys by carrying bags on their backs. “The government should protect citizens who are peacefully expressing their opinions, not assault them with unnecessary force.”
In the lawyer’s view, the use of this tactic serves no purpose since it does not disperse the protestors. Furthermore, water cannons were only deployed on September 18, 19, and 20 after protestors had already been detained. “They were trapped between the police line and the water cannon, suggesting that these are corporal punishments.”
Since September 9, Extinction Rebellion has been organizing daily protests on the A12 by blocking the highway. Their goal is to pressure the Dutch government to abandon policies supporting the fossil fuel industry. [stop fossil fuel subsidies] Over the past three days, more than a thousand individuals were arrested.
The police arrested 552 climate activists on Saturday who had partially blocked the A12 highway in The Hague. This is more than during the roadblocks of previous days: on Friday, more than 200 protesters were arrested, compared to around 100 the two days before.
The road was open to traffic again at 2:15 p.m. Around noon, protesters from Extinction Rebellion blocked the road for the fifteenth consecutive day to reiterate their demand to the government to stop projects that support the fossil fuel industry. [It’s more accurate that XR NL are demanding an end to fossil fuel subsidies by NL government.]
XR spokesperson Lucas Winnips claimed in a press statement that the climate action group is “not asking for police involvement. That is a political choice. It is now clear that Extinction Rebellion will continue as long as necessary and that we are expanding. I would like to ask the police not to intervene in our peaceful demonstration anymore because that is pointless. We will come back the next day.”
Extinction Rebellion has been demonstrating daily on the A12 since September 9.
“Sunak’s U-turn today will be devastating for the people of the U.K. and for the planet we call home,” warned one Scottish Green. “It’s nothing short of evil.”
Critics across the political spectrum—from Conservative members of Parliament and corporations to Greens and climate campaigners—reacted with anger and resolve Wednesday following the announcement by U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak that his Tory government would retreat from some of its key net-zero commitments.
Speaking Wednesday at the Downing Street Press Briefing Room in London, Sunak said his government is still committed to reaching net-zero by 2050, but in a “more proportionate way” that would bring a “greener planet and a more prosperous future.”
The rollback will reportedly include delaying a ban on the sale of petrol- and diesel-powered vehicles from 2030 to 2035, pushing back the phaseout of gas boilers, scrapping energy efficiency targets for some homes, dropping recycling plans, and canceling a planned air travel tax.
“This is a U-turn that will leave the Tories facing in the opposite direction of almost everyone, and finally end their hopes of reelection.”
“No one can deny climate change is happening,” Sunak said, adding that the county needs “sensible green leadership” instead of false choices that “never go beyond a slogan.”
However, Conservative peer Lord Zac Goldsmith — who resigned his ministerial post earlier this summer due to what he called Sunak’s climate “apathy” — called the prime minister’s reversal “a moment of shame.”
“His short stint as PM will be remembered as the moment the U.K. turned its back on the world and on future generations,” he added.
Shadow Climate Secretary Ed Miliband led Labour condemnation of the reversal, which he called “a complete farce from a Tory government that literally does not know what they are doing day to day.”
Brighton Pavilion Green MP Caroline Lucas slammed what she called Sunak’s “coordinated, calculated, and catastrophic rollback.”
“What this all reveals is that Sunak really doesn’t seem to care about the climate in the slightest—it’s little more than an afterthought,” Lucas wrote in a Guardian opinion piece published Wednesday.
Sunak must call a general election by January 2025, and his Tories are trailing the opposition Labour Party in opinion polls amid persistently high inflation, slow economic growth, and rising inequality.
“If Sunak mistakenly thinks the climate is merely a political device to draw dividing lines between his party and Labour, he will fail on his own terms,” wrote Lucas. “All it will do is draw an ever-greater divide between him and the people he seeks to govern.”
“The government needs to double down now, not U-turn,” Kennedy Walker, a U.K. organizer with the climate action group 350.org, said in a statement. “We have the opportunity to show what a transition to a greener economy that works for people and the planet can look like; we need to hold leadership to account to make sure it happens and they follow through on their own promises.”
Riffing on the government’s “long-term decisions for a brighter future” slogan, Extinction Rebellion U.K. wrote on the social media site X: “Short-term decisions for a shitter future. Remember, this government took £3.5 million in donations from Big Oil and other industries before licensing new gas and oil.”
Many companies including automaker Ford and energy giant E.ON joined in criticism of the rollback.
“Our business needs three things from the U.K. government: ambition, commitment, and consistency. A relaxation of 2030 would undermine all three,” Ford U.K. chair Lisa Brankin said Wednesday. “We need the policy focus trained on bolstering the EV market in the short term and supporting consumers while headwinds are strong: infrastructure remains immature, tariffs loom, and cost-of-living is high.”
Some critics noted that Sunak’s announcement came on the same day the leaders of many nations—but not Britain or the world’s two top carbon polluters, China and the United States—gathered in New York for the United Nations Climate Ambition Summit.
“We’re in a climate emergency. The deadly impacts of climate change are here now and we have to act urgently,” Labour London Mayor Sadiq Khan—the only U.K. speaker at the summit — told The Guardian Wednesday. “We have seen record high temperatures in London earlier this month and the hottest ever July. Over the last two years, we have experienced unprecedented wildfires and flash floods, destroying homes and livelihoods.”
“This government’s response flies in the face of common sense and shows they are climate delayers,” Khan added. “It beggars belief that not only are they watering down vital commitments, but they are also passing up the opportunity to create green jobs, wealth, and lower energy bills—as well as failing to give investors the certainty they need to boost the green economy.”
Sunak’s reversal also infuriated many people in Scotland.
“Rishi Sunak has blood on his hands,” National Union of Students Scotland president and Scottish Young Greens co-convener Ellie Gomersall toldThe National. “His excuse? It’s too costly. Well then all the more kudos to the Scottish government who are still moving forward with net-zero policies like low-emission zones, phasing out gas boilers, cheaper public transport, all the while on a budget severely restrained by the confines of devolution.”
“And of course when the Scottish government does try to implement simple yet effective measures like a deposit return scheme, Westminster comes along and blocks it,” she added. “Sunak’s U-turn today will be devastating for the people of the U.K. and for the planet we call home. It’s nothing short of evil.”
Alistair Heather, a Scottish writer and TV presenter, told The National that he was “almost pleased” by Sunak’s announcement.
“This is a U-turn that will leave the Tories facing in the opposite direction of almost everyone, and finally end their hopes of reelection,” he explained. “For mainstream voters, who understand that a clear, urgent movement of travel towards a green future is the best chance we have of mitigating the worst effects of the climate collapse, the Tories have made themselves completely unelectable. Good… Fuck the Tories. Mon the independence.”
“With the Left AWOL, our species is being quick-marched to extinction.”
The outrage was felt far beyond U.K. shores.
“At a time when the U.K. should be providing global leadership in transitioning off fossil fuels, especially in recognition of the impact its historical emissions have had in bringing about the climate crisis, the U.K. government is considering backtracking on already insufficient commitments,” 350.org Europe regional director Nicolò Wojewoda said in a statement.
Yanis Varoufakis, a former Greek finance minister who heads the left-wing MeRA25 party, wrote on X that “Sunak’s U-turn is a reflection of the total Europe-wide collapse of the market-based, neoliberal consensus on how to tackle the climate crisis. It marks the center‐right’s new path.”
“And with the Left AWOL,” he added, “our species is being quick-marched to extinction.”
Protesters facing criminal convictions are being punished twice as National Highways and TfL seek costly injunctions
Climate activists have told openDemocracy they are being hit with “crippling” bills totalling thousands of pounds because of legal action brought by government and public bodies to prevent protests.
Injunctions – orders issued through civil courts, usually to ban something – are increasingly being used to crack down on climate demonstrations, activists say, in what they believe is an attempt to silence dissent.
Both National Highways and Transport for London (TfL) have named supporters of environmental campaign groups Insulate Britain and Just Stop Oil on injunctions intended to stop protests on certain roads in recent years. One person named on a TfL injunction told openDemocracy they have never even protested in London.
Breaching an injunction can lead to a contempt of court conviction, which is punishable by up to two years’ imprisonment, an unlimited fine and the seizure of assets.
One Just Stop Oil protester said they had been warned by their lawyers that those who go to trial to fight an alleged breach and lose could be made to pay up to £150,000 to £200,000 in legal fees, while accepting a breach could incur costs of between £5,000 and £20,000.
The protester told openDemocracy that the costs could leave defendants vulnerable to “the kinds of debts which could cripple you and potentially make you homeless”.
Raj Chada, a partner at law firm Hodge Jones & Allen who represents a number of Insulate Britain supporters, said the way injunctions are now being used is “astonishing” and something he’s never seen before in 15 years of working with protesters.
“The injunctions that are currently being used have always been there but it has never been the case that National Highways Agency or TfL would seek injunctions to completely prevent protests in certain areas,” he said.
Yesterday, it was reported that Rishi Sunak is considering weakening the government’s net-zero commitments, including by delaying a ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars, watering down the phasing out of gas boilers, and scrapping plans for new energy-efficiency targets for private rented homes.
Chada agrees, saying: “This government in particular doesn’t like being challenged by groups such as Just Stop Oil or Extinction Rebellion.”
National Highways is a government-owned company responsible for operating, maintaining and improving motorways and major A-roads in England.
According to a court document seen by openDemocracy, National Highways initially sought costs of £727,573 for legal fees incurred in securing injunctions blocking protests on and around the M25. Split between more than 130 climate activists it named on its injunctions, this would have worked out at more than £5,000 per person.
Those named in an interim injunction must go to court to negotiate its full terms, or to try to have their names removed or the injunction overturned. During this process, which can take years, the terms of the interim injunction – which can be harsher than the final parameters – are binding.
In the National Highways case, the court granted a final injunction against 24 people who were found in contempt of court for breaching the interim injunction. It also issued an anticipatory injunction against a further 109 people, meaning they were injuncted in anticipation of potential wrongdoing.
The court ruled that the 109 people who weren’t found in contempt of court should pay £1,500 in interim payments towards National Highways’ legal fees, while the remaining 24 will pay £3,000. The full extent of the costs will be determined at a later hearing.
Labour councillor Giovanna Lewis, an Insulate Britain supporter who has been fighting the National Highways injunction on behalf of all defendants, says the financial consequences are far-reaching. Some of the 133 people injuncted have had to set up payment plans to pay legal fees. Missed payments could result in a visit from bailiffs.
Annie, a 66-year-old retired grandmother from Dorchester, is among those paying off the £1,500 ordered by the court. She believes the government is “trying to squash” protesters.
After being left feeling “shocked” and “horrified” to hear of people dying of cold in their own homes, Annie took part in three road-blocking Insulate Britain protests in the south of England in September 2021. She was arrested and charged with wilful obstruction of the highway, a criminal offence. Thinking that was it, the injunction issued days later came as a shock.
“We were suddenly getting these people in black knocking on the door and trying to deliver massive letters to us,” she said. “This is both National Highways Ltd and TfL. I’ve kept everything, it’s all in a box and there’s between 10 kilograms and 12 kilograms of mail.”
Annie described feeling hounded by lawyers trying to deliver injunction documents. “It came to a point where if I knew that I was making arrangements with friends, I’d ask them not to knock on the front door and come around the back. I just stopped answering,” she said.
A spokesperson for National Highways said people were added to the injunction due to evidence that they “had previously been engaged in protests on or near our roads shortly before or after the injunction order was made, and therefore posed a risk of breaching the injunction in future”. They added that such evidence typically came from the police after arrests.
A spokesperson for TfL also said the names of protesters it included on an injunction that it sought due to “continuing threats of disruptive protests from Just Stop Oil and Insulate Britain” were disclosed by the Metropolitan Police.
‘Anxious and vulnerable’
Organisations applying for an interim injunction don’t have to prove any of the claims they make, according to Green and Black Cross, a grassroots project that helps protesters with legal matters. Companies can name specific people, wider groups, or ‘persons unknown’ who have protested against the organisation or are believed to be likely to do so.
Insulate Britain and Just Stop Oil supporters told openDemocracy that those who are named are being forced to front expensive legal fees to fight the injunction. The hourly rate for a solicitor in London with more than eight years’ experience is £512, according to government guideline figures.
If they lose the case and are injuncted against, the activists can also be made to pay the legal fees of the winning side. The court has discretion over how much they should pay.
They try to impoverish people so that they’re more concerned about earning to pay things off than campaigning on the climate crisis
Mya, who is also the subject of multiple injunctions, was arrested in November 2022 after attempting to climb a gantry over the M25 with Just Stop Oil. She told openDemocracy that costs for people who admit to breaching a National Highways injunction range from £5,000 to £20,000.
These figures were described as “broadly correct” by National Highways, though they said the amount would “vary from person to person, taking into consideration individual circumstances, the severity of the breach and the number of breaches”.
Mya said: “I think the injunctions are there to try and deter people. And then they’re there to also keep people caught up in all these legal proceedings and to try to impoverish people so that they’re more concerned about trying to earn money to pay things off, rather than trying to campaign on the climate crisis.”
As well as the hefty financial costs, Chada told openDemocracy that the human impact of the injunctions has left people feeling “concerned, anxious, vulnerable and fearful of what the cost of their actions will now be”.
“It really is just quite astonishing – the chilling effect of what all of this could be,” he said.
A National Highways spokesperson said: “Our primary concern is always safety – protesting on the strategic road network is extremely dangerous to the protesters and motorists.
“It’s right that dangerous and reckless protesters who disrupt our strategic road network should face the necessary consequences; anyone intending to protest on these roads should know that they run the risk of imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine. People rely on the strategic road network for so many things and they have a right to expect it to operate as it should.”
TfL said it is “doing all it can to ensure that London’s road network operates safely and efficiently and that vital emergency service vehicles are able to move freely through the city”.