Arrest protest mobs! Priti Patel calls on police to use new powers to break up fuel demonstrations as day of action hits motorways and summer of chaos looms

  • Home Secretary tells police to use tough new powers to halt climate protests
  • Cops urged to arrest and charge drivers behind ‘go-slow’ protests on UK roads
  • Another Tory MP warned rising anger could spur Canada-style ‘Freedom Convoy’
  • New measures that came into force earlier this year could risk new penalties 

Priti Patel last night urged police to use tough new powers to stop fuel protesters bringing Britain’s roads to a halt.

Following a day of disruption, the Home Secretary said officers should arrest and charge drivers behind ‘go-slow’ protests.

Her broadside came as a Tory MP warned that rising anger at the soaring price of filling up could see Canadian-style ‘Freedom Convoy’ blockades targeting London. A veteran of the fuel protests that paralysed Britain in 2000 is helping to co-ordinate what organisers hope will be a ‘summer of discontent’.

Demonstrators who cause disruption on the roads risk stiffer punishments under measures that came into force earlier this year. 

Police are pictured making a Section 12 arrest after a motorist drove at just 10mph yesterday

Fuel price protesters created a rolling blockade along the M4 near Bristol yesterday morning

Priti Patel (pictured in 2021) has urged police to halt the protests grinding the country to a halt

They were designed to combat protests by groups such as Extinction Rebellion but would also apply to the fuel campaigners.

The maximum penalty for ‘wilful obstruction of a highway’ was increased to six months in jail and an unlimited fine. Previously the offence carried only a low fine.

A Home Office source said last night: ‘Through our Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act, we have given the police a wealth of powers to deal with disruptive and damaging protests, including imprisonment and unlimited fines for those blocking a highway – actions which inflict further pain on those affected by rising prices.

‘The Home Secretary would encourage and support the police to make use of all the powers available to them. 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.’

In other developments:

  • Eco-activists from anti-fossil fuel group Just Stop Oil yesterday covered Constable’s The Hay Wain with a mock version and glued themselves to the artwork’s frame
  • A petition calling for fuel duty to be slashed hit over 300,000 signatures
  • Gary Lineker was blasted by F1 commentator Martin Brundle after the ex-footballer praised eco protesters who stormed the track at Silverstone during Sunday’s grand prix
  • Air travellers faced fresh disruption as queues snaked into car parks and outside airport terminal buildings, raising fears of a school summer holiday meltdown.

Thousands of motorists experienced lengthy delays yesterday after protesters formed go-slow convoys on major routes, demanding an immediate cut in fuel duty.

In a campaign organised on social media, drivers descended on agreed gathering points early yesterday morning, with the Prince of Wales Bridge between England and South Wales closed both ways.

It prompted Bristol airport to advise travellers to allow extra time for their journeys.

The M54 in Shropshire and M62 in West Yorkshire were also disrupted by separate protest convoys, with a Tesco petrol station in Shepton Mallet, Somerset, also targeted.

Farmer Andrew Spence, who targeted a Shell plant at Jarrow, South Tyneside, in demonstrations 22 years ago, claimed yesterday’s action was ‘just the start of things to come’. He added: ‘We’re promising a summer of discontent – this is only going to get bigger and bigger.’

Protesters from Just Stop Oil glue their hands to the frame of John Constable’s The Hay Wain at the National Gallery today

Mr Spence, 55, from County Durham, said the advent of sites such as Facebook had transformed his ability to mobilise people angered by rising fuel prices.

‘Social media is what makes people stand up and take notice,’ he said. ‘That’s something we didn’t have in the early 2000s.’

Mr Spence said that blockades of refineries had ‘not been ruled out’. Conservative MP Robert Halfon called for Chancellor Rishi Sunak to go further than the 5p a litre reduction in fuel duty implemented in March’s spring statement and said the growing wave of anger should not be ignored.

‘I don’t want anything that disrupts people in their ordinary lives,’ he said. ‘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.’

Canada’s so-called Freedom Convoy in February escalated from anger at Covid vaccine rules into a wider campaign and a three-week occupation of the capital, Ottawa.

Among those taking part in the protest in South Wales yesterday was welder Richard Dite, who risked six points on his driving licence and a £200 fine by filming the convoy on his mobile phone from the wheel of his van. Shouting ‘give us our country back’, the 44-year-old was in one of about half a dozen vehicles in a small procession on the M4.

‘I am on the verge of putting my gear in the shed,’ he said. ‘I’d be better off on the dole.’

The protests come at a time when fuel duty and VAT make up 85p of the average £1.91 for a litre of unleaded petrol, according to the RAC.

The wave of price hikes has been driven by global oil supply issues after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Art attack as eco mob replace Hay Wain with a hellish future

By Lizzy Lyons for the Daily Mail

Eco-activists yesterday glued themselves to John Constable’s masterpiece The Hay Wain – and covered it with a mock version.

Enraging art lovers, the two student members of the group Just Stop Oil stuck large sheets of paper on the 200-year-old picture, replacing green fields with a scene of scorched trees, polluted skies, and discarded household waste.

Officers from the Metropolitan Police were called to the National Gallery in London to remove Brighton students Hannah Hunt, 23 and Eben Lazarus, 22, from the frame after the pair glued themselves to it. Both of them were then arrested.

Protesters from Just Stop Oil defaced John Constable’s The Hay Wain in London yesterday

A security guard pushes back photographers as the climate campaigners glued their hands

ORIGINAL PAINTING – The Hay Wain, which was painted in 1821, is one of the most popular paintings at the National Gallery and shows a rural Suffolk scene a wagon returning to the fields across a shallow ford for another load

Protesters were pictured covering up the British classic with a dystopian alternative

Photographers were forced to leave the room as police reportedly escorted the pair away 

The stunt forced the National Gallery to evacuate art admirers, tourists and a class of 11-year-old school children from the room where the picture hangs.

The Hay Wain, painted in 1821, is one of the gallery’s most popular exhibits and shows a scene in rural Suffolk.

Another of Constable’s paintings in the same series fetched £22.4million at auction in 2012.

The stunt provoked fury from art commentators, including Adrian Hilton, a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, who said: ‘How is this even possible in the National Gallery? I mean, it’s a John Constable masterpiece; a national treasure. Is it really this easy to paper over or – God forbid – destroy it?’

How John Constable and The Hay Wain have a special place in history

Born in Suffolk in 1776, John Constable is considered one of the foremost British artists.

Largely self-taught, he was influenced by Dutch painters – and is best known for his landscape paintings in Dedham Vale, the area in which he grew up.

His most famous painting, The Hay Wain, is now exhibited at the National Gallery. Finished in 1821, The Hay Wain was one of six large canvases depicting the area around Flatford Mill in Suffolk.

Another in the series, The Lock, became one of the most expensive British paintings ever sold when it fetched £22.4million at auction in 2012.

Despite his works now attracting huge fees, Constable was not financially successful in life. He also struggled to gain recognition from his peers and was not elected into the Royal Academy until the age of 52.

He died in March 1837, aged 60, of apparent heart failure, and was buried with his wife. His children John and Charles are also buried in the tomb.

Mr Lazarus, a music student who previously boasted about evading arrest after protesting at an ExxonMobil oil refinery in October, told onlookers at the gallery: ‘Art is important. It should be held for future generations to see, but when there is no food, what use is art?

‘When there is no water, what use is art? When billions of people are in pain and suffering, what use then is art?’

Psychology student Miss Hunt said the pair carried out the protest because the Government is currently considering 40 new oil and gas projects.

‘You can forget our green and pleasant land when further oil extraction will lead to widespread crop failures which means we will be fighting for food,’ she said. ‘So yes, there is glue on the frame of this painting but there is blood on the hands of our Government.

‘The disruption will end when the UK Government makes a meaningful statement that it will end new oil and gas licences.’

A spokesman for Just Stop Oil said no damage was caused to the painting and that ‘low tack material’ was used to stick the sheets of paper up, adding: ‘If people are more concerned about a painting than the deaths of millions of people around the world then they need to get their priorities sorted.’

However, the gallery said the frame had suffered some damage – and there was ‘some disruption’ to the painting’s varnish. In a statement, the gallery said: ‘The Hay Wain suffered minor damage to its frame and there was also some disruption to the surface of the varnish on the painting – both of which have now been successfully dealt with.’

It said the painting would be rehung in a matter of hours. The incident follows several other Just Stop Oil stunts in Glasgow, Manchester and London where protesters glued themselves to the frames of paintings including Van Gogh’s Peach Tree.

Born and raised in Suffolk in 1776 to a wealthy family, Constable was an English Romantic painter and the Hay Wain is considered to be his masterpiece.

The 6ft painting depicts a rural scene on the River Stour, which divides Suffolk and Essex, and features three horses pulling a large wagon across the river. The peaceful painting is celebrated for its portrayal of a quintessentially English country scene which was at odds with the upheaval of the industrial revolution at the time.

Last week, a worker silenced activists after they glued their hands to a painting in Manchester

In 2005, it was voted the second greatest painting in Britain in a poll run by BBC Radio 4, coming second to The Fighting Temeraire by Turner.

Constable died in 1837 after struggling to make money from his paintings.

They are now among the most celebrated British works of art.

After the incident yesterday, a spokesman for the National Gallery said: ‘At around 2.15pm… two people entered Room 34 of the National Gallery and appeared to glue themselves to the frame of The Hay Wain by John Constable (1821).

The couple embraced and even kissed as their hands were stuck to the classic English work 

‘They also covered the surface of the painting with three sheets of what appears to be paper featuring a reimagined version of The Hay Wain.

‘The pair appear to be Just Stop Oil activists.

‘The room has been closed to the public and police have been called. Gallery staff – including members of the conservation team – are also in attendance.’

A spokesman for the Metropolitan Police said officers were called yesterday afternoon to a protest involving two people.

She said two people were arrested and officers were remaining on the scene.

The pair of activists were seen readying their hands after putting up the alternative painting

A security guard calls for backup as the pair continued their lengthy protest in London 

Security guards were flummoxed by the stunt – with some saying their response was too casual

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