Not everyone is happy about King Charles’ coronation on 6 May. Anti-monarchists have planned ‘Not My King’ protests for the day. However, the British government has passed an anti-protest law, involving tougher sentences for anyone participating in disruptive action at major events.
Come 6 May and there’s expected to be celebrations, cheers and… protests? The day King Charles III is scheduled to be coronated at Westminster Abbey, there are reports that state there will be massive protests around London, with demonstrators holding placards reading ‘Not my King’ and chanting the same.
However, on Wednesday parts of tough new laws to combat protests have been passed in order to keep anti-monarchists at bay. Security Minister, Tom Tugendhat, said, “We’re not just thinking of our own security but the security of heads of states, and we’re dealing with protest groups who have nothing to do with UK but to do with foreign leaders visiting the UK.
What exactly are these new anti-protest laws? What does King Charles’ coronation have to do with it? How have they been received?
What are the anti-protests laws?
The anti-protest laws in Britain, which came into effect on Wednesday, are part of what is called the Public Order Act 2023. This new legislation gives the police the power to prevent disruption at major sporting and cultural events taking place this summer in England and Wales, said the Home Office.
As per the law, protesters will face sentences of up to six months or an “unlimited fine” for using tactics such as ‘locking on’. For those who don’t know, locking on is where protesters physically attach themselves to things like buildings.
Moreover, the law states that those who block roads, airports and railways could face 12 months behind bars. The law also gives the police the power to stop and search protesters “for items like padlocks, superglue and digging tools if they suspect they are setting out to cause chaos”. Individuals found with such items and who intend on using them will also face criminal charges.
On Tuesday, Home Secretary Suella Braverman speaking on the laws had said, “The public shouldn’t have their daily lives ruined by so called ‘eco-warriors’ causing disruption and wasting millions of pounds of taxpayer money. The selfish minority must not be allowed to get away with this. We are giving our police and courts the tools they need to stop this chaos and I back them in making full use of these powers.”
What does King’s Coronation have to do with it?
Many believe that these laws have been fast-tracked to combat protests meant for King Charles’ Coronation on 6 May. As per a report in The Telegraph, the Home Office’s Police Powers Unit has written to the campaign group Republic, who are anti-monarchists, saying that the new powers have been brought forward to prevent “disruption at major sporting and cultural events”.
A BBC report added that a letter sent by the Home Office to Republic on 28 April read: “I would be grateful if you could publicise and forward this letter to your members who are likely to be affected by these legislative changes.”
This is in anticipation of Republic’s move to carry out mass demonstrations against King Charles on the ‘Big Day.’ The group hopes up to 1,700 supporters will gather around the statue of Charles I, who was beheaded in 1649, and hold yellow placards declaring “Not My King”.
Ahead of the King’s coronation, there has been growing dissent against the monarchy, with some questioning why the public is burdening the cost of the grand event. Mind you, the coronation comes with an estimated price tag of £100 million.
Moreover, recent polls have shown that Britain’s monarchy is no longer as popular as it used to be. The poll conducted by the National Centre for Social Research revealed that only three in 10 Britons think their monarchy is “very important” – the lowest proportion on record.
The survey found public support for the monarchy at an all-time low, with 45 per cent of respondents saying either it should be abolished, was not very important, or not at all important. That figure was 35 per cent among respondents to a similar poll in 2022, the year of the late Queen Elizabeth’s platinum jubilee.
Graham Smith, the chief of Republic, slammed the letters and the law as ‘intimidatory’. “The tone and the anonymity (of the 28 April letter) feels like a passive-aggressive attempt to put us off. I don’t know why the Home Office has sent this, given it’s the police’s job to police. The lawyers were perplexed why it was sent.”
How have others reacted?
The anti-monarchist group, Republic, isn’t alone in its criticism of the new laws. Amnesty International UK’s Chief Executive Sacha Deshmukh told Yahoo News UK: “With the government increasingly intolerant of nearly all protest, this weekend will be an important test of whether peaceful protests are even now possible amid draconian new anti-protests laws and highly interventionist police forces.”
He added, “Those who wish to publicly register their disapproval of the monarchy and of King Charles ought to be able to do so without fear of arrest or indeed of violence from bystanders on the streets.”
The Labour Party, which sits in the opposition in Britain, also expressed their contempt for the new legislation. Labour MP Bell Ribeiro-Addy said, “People have a right to freely assemble and express their opposition to the monarchy. The government has no right to try and intimidate protesters who want to make their voices heard.”
Yasmine Ahmed, UK director of Human Rights Watch, was also quoted as telling CNN that protesting was a fundamental right in Britain and this was a move to crush dissent. “Instead of helping people who are below the poverty line – people who are in work, including nurses – the government is wasting time crushing dissent,” she was quoted as telling CNN.
Why so many protests in Britain?
These laws gain even more prominence as the nation has been gripped by various protests. There’s the rising cost of living, the lack of jobs and the looming climate catastrophe.
Climate activist groups such as Just Stop Oil and Extinction Rebellion have carried out various forms of agitations – from staging mass protests on roads to throwing paint at artworks in museums. Who can forget a Just Stop Oil activist throwing soup at Vincent Van Gogh’s Sunflowers at the National Gallery or them attempting to disrupt the British Grand Prix?
There was also the instance of the Just Stop Oil protester at the World Snooker Championship being held in South Yorkshire earlier in April. The activist climbed onto the snooker table at the event and threw a bag of orange powder paint over the playing surface. However, these protests may soon become a thing of the past with the new legislation coming into effect.