Environmental activists from around Britain are converging on Westminster on Monday morning in an attempt to “shut down” the heart of government with two weeks of disruptive protests.
Extinction Rebellion (XR) had earlier said its members are planning to blockade “every single road” into the central London district and plan to maintain the protests for at least 14 days, or until their demands are met.
Each site will be taken by groups of activists from different regions of the UK or with different political priorities. Activists started to stop traffic from around 9am. Planned sites around parliament included Trafalgar Square, Horse Guards Parade, the Mall, Victoria Street, and Westminster and Vauxhall bridges, among others.
Photograph: Henry Nicholls/Reuters
Throughout the week activists plan to take action around Westminster at government departments, to blockade Smithfield market, then later move on to London City airport, where they intend to stage a three-day protest.
However, even senior members of XR say they do not know the full scale or extent of intended protests as many are being organised autonomously. Independent solidarity actions under the banner of international XR groups are also expected in about 60 cities around the world.
XR UK claims to have recruited five times as many activists as during the last major protests in April, when more than 1,100 were arrested at blockades of four major London sites that lasted about a week.
Metropolitan police commanders – after coming under fire for not ending those protests sooner – have said they are planning to be more proactive and agile in their response. Specialist police teams have been drafted in from around the country to remove protesters who try to lock or glue themselves in place.
Photograph: Ben Stansall/AFP via Getty Images
However, the activists believe their decentralised command structures and weight of numbers will overwhelm the police response. “Everyone will be like water and move to more disruptive locations if [police] don’t let them take the sites,” one told the Guardian.
Activists have also been instructed to refuse bail when arrested, in the hope they can fill up all of the Met’s holding cells and prevent police from making more arrests.
On Saturday, officers from the force’s territorial support group raided a building in south London and seized equipment that activists had planned to use. Seven women and three men were arrested for conspiracy to cause a public nuisance
Officers used a battering ram to force their way in. However, a source within XR said that while officers were breaking in through the front door, activists were smuggling “a whole pile of stuff” out of the back.