Boris Johnson slams Extinction Rebellion for ‘attacking free speech’

Boris Johnson has blasted Extinction Rebellion protesters for ‘attacking free speech’ after they blocked the roads outside national newspaper printing presses meaning many did not reach newsagents in time for readers.

‘A free press is vital in holding the government and other powerful institutions to account on issues critical for the future of our country, including the fight against climate change,’ he said. ‘It is completely unacceptable to seek to limit the public’s access to news in this way.’

Last night dozens of activists chained themselves to the gates of Newsprinters in Broxbourne, Hertfordshire, while others blocked access to the presses in Knowsley, Liverpool.

The action meant that by 6am delivery trucks for The Sun, The Times, the Daily Mail, the Daily Telegraph and the Financial Times had not left.

Although printing was rapidly transferred to other plants, the closure meant that hundreds of readers were horrified to turn up at the newsagents today only to find their newspaper was absent.

The protesters have now been removed from outside the printing presses, and at least 72 arrests have been made.

The demonstration, which blocked stories such as a feature by David Attenborough on the importance of fighting climate change from getting to readers, is part of a ten-day period of national action declared by the group.

Today activists staged a ‘die-in’ outside Buckingham Palace, and marched through Trafalgar Square brandishing flags and placards.

More than 30 arrests have been made following the blockades. A second was set up in Knowsley, near Liverpool

More than 30 arrests have been made following the blockades. A second was set up in Knowsley, near Liverpool

Extinction Rebellion protesters blockaded the entrance to Newsprinters in Broxbourne, Hertfordshire, meaning some national newspapers did not reach stands today

Extinction Rebellion protesters blockaded the entrance to Newsprinters in Broxbourne, Hertfordshire, meaning some national newspapers did not reach stands today

Emergency services arrived and engaged with the protesters to move them on

Emergency services arrived and engaged with the protesters to move them on

The protesters remained in place outside the Newsprinters in Broxbourne, Hertfordshire, this morning. They were seen hanging from bamboo structures

The protesters remained in place outside the Newsprinters in Broxbourne, Hertfordshire, this morning. They were seen hanging from bamboo structures

The Times and The Sun were missing from a newsagent in the Liverpool area today

The Times and The Sun were missing from a newsagent in the Liverpool area today

Boris Johnson slams Extinction Rebellion for 'attacking free speech' 2

Boris Johnson slams Extinction Rebellion for 'attacking free speech' 4

Why Extinction Rebellion has blocked the printing presses 

Extinction Rebellion (XR) claimed last night that it was using the disruption to ‘expose’ newspapers ‘failure to report on the climate and ecological emergency’.

They alleged: ‘Coverage in many of the newspapers printed here is polluting national debate on climate change, immigration policy, the rights and treatment of minority groups, and on dozens of other issues.’

This morning the group apologised on Twitter for the disruption caused to newsagents but said it was not apologising to Murdoch for disrupting his ‘agenda’.

Responding to the home secretary’s criticism, they accused the press of stirring ‘division and hate’.

There have been fears in recent weeks that XR has been taken over by a cabal of hard-left groups hell-bent on driving their own agenda.

Politicians lined up to criticise the group this morning, saying they thought this may damage support for the cause at a critical time.

Labour shadow international trade secretary Emily Thornberry said: ‘I really don’t know what it is that is expected to be achieved.

‘I know that for many older listeners it’s very much part of their daily life, getting their paper delivered in the morning, and I just think it’s wrong.’ 

Criticism has been levelled at the group for disrupting the distribution of newspapers during the global pandemic.

Politicians of all persuasions hit the airwaves to slam the protesters this morning, and warn that the action may have harmed their cause.

Home secretary Priti Patel followed the prime minister’s lead in expressing her outrage at their ‘attack’. 

‘This morning people across the country will be prevented from reading their newspaper because of the actions of Extinction Rebellion,’ she said.

‘This attack on our free press, society and democracy is completely unacceptable.’ 

Conservative MP Tobias Ellwood told Times Radio that Extinction Rebellion (XR) had ‘lost sight of how to campaign on a very important issue’.

‘The government has done much itself but obviously could do more and we need to work with the people to get that message across so we all can be more aware of the carbon footprint that we create,’ he said.

‘But what they’re doing here is to alienate more people. I fear the organisation itself has been hijacked.’

Communities secretary Robert Jenrick criticised the protesters, stating: ‘A good day to #buyanewspaper. A free press matters to all of us who value a free society. They mustn’t be silenced by an intolerant minority.’

And Labour’s shadow international trade secretary Emily Thornberry also weighed in, denouncing the group saying ‘I really don’t know what it is that is expected to be achieved’.

‘I know that for many older listeners it’s very much part of their daily life, getting their paper delivered in the morning, and I just think it’s wrong,’ she told Times Radio.

Newsprinters condemned the protests as an ‘attack on all of the free press’ which had affected workers going about their jobs and others such as newsagents who face ‘financial penalty’.

‘This attack on all of the free press impacted many workers going about their jobs,’ they said. ‘Overnight print workers, delivery drivers, wholesale workers and retail newsagents have faced delays and financial penalty. This is a matter for the police and the Home Office.

‘Thanks to other industry partners, printing was transferred to other sites.’

The Federation of Independent Retailers (NFRN) said the protests had hit home delivery operations, including for the ‘elderly and vulnerable’, with its members having to deal with ‘angry customers’.

National president Stuart Reddish said: ‘Newsagents have played a critical role during Covid-19 in getting newspapers into the hands of readers and this is not helpful at a time when every sale counts.’ 

The protesters are pictured above blocking the entrance to the printing plant

The protesters are pictured above blocking the entrance to the printing plant

More than a hundred demonstrators blocked access to Newsprinters printing works in Broxbourne, Hertfordshire, (pictured) and Knowsley, near Liverpool, last night

More than a hundred demonstrators blocked access to Newsprinters printing works in Broxbourne, Hertfordshire, (pictured) and Knowsley, near Liverpool, last night

Printing was moved to other sites but the protests could lead to delays in deliveries of The Sun, The Times, the Daily Mail, the Daily Telegraph and the Financial Times. (Pictured: Boxbourne)

Printing was moved to other sites but the protests could lead to delays in deliveries of The Sun, The Times, the Daily Mail, the Daily Telegraph and the Financial Times. (Pictured: Boxbourne)

Newsprinters has condemned the demonstration as an 'attack on the free press'. (Pictured: Protesters blockading access to the printing presses in Knowsley)

Newsprinters has condemned the demonstration as an ‘attack on the free press’. (Pictured: Protesters blockading access to the printing presses in Knowsley)

Hertfordshire police said in a statement they were called to the plant in Broxbourne at 10pm yesterday.

Assistant chief constable Owen Weatherill said in a statement officers were working to facilitate ‘the rights of both the protesters and those affected by their presence’ but that the ‘protesters’ were not co-operating.

‘The rights to protest are well established in this country and we remain committed to facilitating peaceful protest and ensuring compliance,’ he said in a statement.

‘However, at this time, the group are not engaging with us and the protest is causing major disruption to local businesses. 

‘I’d like to reassure you that we are doing all we can to bring the incident to a peaceful conclusion, ensuring minimum disruption to the affected businesses.’

Merseyside police tweeted on Saturday morning that officers were still in attendance at the Knowsley plant.

XR claimed last night that it was using the disruption to ‘expose’ newspapers ‘failure to report on the climate and ecological emergency’.

They alleged: ‘Coverage in many of the newspapers printed here is polluting national debate on climate change, immigration policy, the rights and treatment of minority groups, and on dozens of other issues.’

Responding to the home secretary’s criticism on Twitter this morning, they accused the press of stirring ‘division and hate’. 

Others sat in a circle beside Nelson's Column in Trafalgar Square to 'draw attention to environmental issues'

Others sat in a circle beside Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square to ‘draw attention to environmental issues’

Protesters stage a die-in outside Buckingham Palace this afternoon. They are calling on the Queen to force her government to take more action to stop climate change

Protesters stage a die-in outside Buckingham Palace this afternoon. They are calling on the Queen to force her government to take more action to stop climate change

Protesters sit in Trafalgar Square to block traffic with policemen asking them to move on

Protesters sit in Trafalgar Square to block traffic with policemen asking them to move on

A protester marches through Trafalgar Square and heads past the National Portrait Gallery

A protester marches through Trafalgar Square and heads past the National Portrait Gallery

Protesters chanted and held up flags and placards as they called for action

Protesters chanted and held up flags and placards as they called for action

A sign reading, 'citizens assembly is the answer', was held up in Trafalgar Square

A sign reading, ‘citizens assembly is the answer’, was held up in Trafalgar Square

XR demonstrators stormed Parliament Square and Trafalgar Square in the capital this afternoon as they demanded further action on climate change.

And after taking part in a dance outside Buckingham Palace including songs such as ‘Staying Alive’ by the Bee Gees, before holding a die-in. 

Protesters had come to take part from London, Brighton and other regional groups. 

XR protesters also held a smaller demonstration near Motherwell aimed at disrupting the distribution of Saturday’s Scottish Sun newspaper.

Meanwhile, climate change protesters have been warned they risk a large fine if they fail to comply with coronavirus rules banning gatherings of more than 30 people.

The Met Police said risk assessments explaining how XR activists were minimising the possibility of Covid-19 transmission at a planned march in Westminster “did not meet the required standard”.

The force said XR’s latest round of demonstrations “pose a risk, not only to those involved, but to the wider public and communities of London”.

On Saturday a procession of activists that set of from Brighton on foot a week ago is due to march the final stretch to Parliament.

They have been banned from taking a 20ft model boat named after teenage activist Greta Thunberg to the streets of Westminster.

On Friday Met Police Assistant Commissioner Louisa Rolfe warned the group not to take The Lightship Greta into an area stretching from Green Park to Lambeth.

Add Comment