Thank you for contacting me about recent protests.
In this country we have a long-standing tradition that people can gather together and demonstrate, and the right to protest peacefully is a fundamental part of our democracy.
The fact that we are in the midst of a Coronavirus pandemic means that it is, at the moment, illegal to gather in large groups because of the public health risk. If people are gathering, I cannot emphasise enough how important it is for them to observe the rules on social distancing. At the current time, because of the threat we face from Coronavirus and the difficulty of social distancing in crowds, I would advise people against attending protests.
I would like to make clear that under no circumstances do I believe that protests should become violent. The rights to a peaceful protest do not extend to harassment, intimidating behaviour or serious disruption to public order. We have all seen scenes of thuggery and violence by a minority in the crowds. Let me be clear, those responsible must be held to account in the courts.
Of course, the responsibility for the maintenance of public order lies with the police, who have a range of powers to manage protests. How they deploy their powers and the tactics they use are rightly an operational matter for the police but I am pleased that we live in a country where policing is by consent. Our world-class police officers continue to put their own lives on the line to protect the public during the protests, despite sometimes coming under attack. As a country, we ask our police officers to do the most difficult of jobs, and they are respected around the world for the excellent work they do.
I understand the strength of feeling surrounding certain statues and memorials that adorn our public spaces. However, I strongly condemn the actions of those who in recent weeks have defaced and damaged public property, or otherwise broken the law. It is of course true that many of these statues are dedicated to people who said or did things that we would not defend today. We must recognise that the past is another country where values and laws were different. Rather than seeking to air brush our history, our aim should be to use heritage to educate people about all aspects of our complex past – good and bad.
Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.
Craig Whittaker MP