Official Calls Protesters 'Criminals,' Will Toughen Laws Against Disruptions They Create

British Home Secretary Priti Patel fought back Tuesday against protesters, promising harsher laws and penalties for the "criminals" and their disruptive demonstrations, the Associated Press reported.

Multiple times during the last month, protesters with the group Insulate Britain—which wants homes to be more energy-efficient—have glued themselves to the highway pavement and stopped traffic by sitting in the middle of roads and bridges.

Patel called the protestors "criminals" and said the government would "close down the legal loopholes" they use.

"Freedom to protest is a fundamental right...but it must be within the law," Patel said during the Conservative Party's annual conference Tuesday.

The protests not only gain attention from leaders but from angry drivers on the halted highways and businesses who are not receiving the amount of traffic they did when the roads were free of disruption.

Local broadcaster LBC captured footage of a woman pleading with protesters to let her get through the demonstration so she could see her mother in a hospital. Another broadcaster shared footage of protesters being dragged out of the roadway by infuriated motorists.

Patel said she could create new regulations to prevent some protesters from traveling around the country and create a new offense of "interference with key infrastructures," along with increasing the maximum penalties for disrupting roadways and railways.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Britain official promises stronger laws against protesters
British Home Secretary Priti Patel promises stronger laws against the "criminals" disrupting roadways and bridges. Above, Patel speaks on October 5, 2021, at the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester, England. Jon Super/Associated Press

Patel, who is responsible for policing and immigration, is a stern law-and-order conservative and favorite of the party's traditionalist base.

In her speech, she promised more efforts to stop people trying to reach Britain across the English Channel in small boats.

Migrants have long used northern France as a launching point to reach Britain, either by stowing away in trucks or on ferries, or—increasingly since the coronavirus pandemic disrupted international travel—in dinghies and other small boats organized by smugglers.

The British and French governments have worked for years to stop the crossings, without much success. More than 17,000 people have made the journey since the start of the year, double the number for all of 2020.

Patel has raised the prospect of sending asylum-seekers to another country, remote from the U.K., while their claims are processed. But so far the plan has stalled amid legal hurdles and criticism from human rights groups.

Patel also promised to do more to keep women and girls safe, amid nationwide shock at the death of Sarah Everard, a 33-year-old woman abducted, raped and murdered as she walked home from a friend's house in London. Her killer was a serving police officer who handcuffed and falsely arrested her.

She said the government would hold a public inquiry into the killer, Wayne Couzens, and the police forces that recruited and employed him.

Patel said the case had "exposed unimaginable failures in policing."

"The public have a right to know what failures enabled his continued employment as a police officer and an inquiry will give the independent oversight needed to ensure something like this can never happen again," she said.