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UK government adviser calls for pro-Palestine protest organisers to pay for policing costs

John Woodcock describes pro-Palestinian activists as part of a 'far-left subculture', and calls for protections for Israeli arms firms
John Woodcock called on the Home Office to give companies who face protest disruption the power to sue protest groups (Supplied)

A UK government adviser has said that organisers of large-scale protests, such as the current wave of pro-Palestine demonstrations in central London, should be required to contribute to the cost of policing.

In a report published on Tuesday, John Woodcock, the government's independent adviser on political violence and disruption, also called for police to be given stronger powers to shut down protests. 

"Extreme protest movements that cause mass disruption and law breaking draw a great amount of police resource and can cause physical injuries to police officers," said Woodcock, in his 240-page report on Tuesday.

"The government should consider the viability of requiring protest organisers to contribute to policing costs when groups are holding a significant number of large demonstrations which cause serious disruption or significant levels of law-breaking."

Woodcock, a former Labour MP who now sits in the House of Lords as Lord Walney, described the pro-Palestine organising coalition behind the protests and other pro-Palestine activists as being part of a "far-left subculture", and singled out defence companies and energy providers for protection with new protest laws.

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Citing the pro-Palestine direct action group Palestine Action, which has targeted Israeli company Elbit Systems, Woodcock called for the government to make "it easier for businesses to pursue extremist protest organisers for damages".

"Defence companies and energy providers that are vital local economies, national security and resilience are being particularly targeted by extreme protest groups," said Woodcock.

Woodcock's report was presented in the House of Commons as a "motion for unsupposed return" and published as a parliamentary paper. This measure gives Woodcock's report parliamentary privilege, which prevents the groups named in it from claiming its contents have defamed them.

A spokesperson for the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, which is among those named in the report, criticised Woodcock for writing a report they described as "draconian" and calling for a ban on peaceful protests. 

"Several of the recommendations made by John Woodcock are transparent attempts to use the law to further his political disagreement with the recent marches in support of Palestinian rights," PSC said in a statement to Middle East Eye.

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"Using police resources to suppress political protests might serve the interests of Woodcock’s corporate paymasters but would seriously undermine long-held democratic principles. 

"This comes on the very day that Liberty has won a court case to prevent an unlawful attempt by the government to overturn the will of parliament and restrict the right to demonstrate."

The Muslim Association of Britain (MAB), which was also named, also criticised it and said attempts to "present this report as independent are blatantly deceptive". 

"Given Lord Walney's history as Chair of Labour Friends of Israel, it is deeply troubling that his report today labels anti-genocide protesters as ‘extremists'," a MAB spokesperson told MEE. 

"What the report does highlight is a disturbing reality, that the government and its allies are more than willing to trample over our civil liberties and undermine our democratic rights whilst simultaneously pushing a definition of extremism that they fall foul of."

Court rules against protest powers

Woodcock chaired the Labour Friends of Israel from 2011 to 2013.

Woodcock's report was published on the same day the UK High Court ruled in favour of the civil liberty group Liberty after it launched a challenge against the UK Home Office, which it said had given the police "almost unlimited" powers to restrict protests. 

In its judgement, the court found that former Home Secretary Suella Braverman passed anti-protest measures despite not being given the power by parliament.

"The legislation significantly lowered the threshold of when the police can impose conditions on protests from anything that caused ‘serious disruption’ to anything that was deemed as causing ‘more than minor’ disruption," Liberty said in a statement. 

"In today’s ruling, Lord Justice Green and Mr Justice Kerr said that the government ignored parliament’s will in failing to define the meaning of ‘serious disruption’ and instead broadened the definition to the point that police were allowed to intervene in protests where disruption was “closer to that which is normal or everyday.”

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