More than 200 people were arrested today - including protesters from Yorkshire - as environmental campaign group Extinction Rebellion started a two-week shutdown of Westminster.
Extinction Rebellion demonstrators brought Westminster to a halt as they demanded the Government takes urgent action on climate change and wildlife losses.
Groups shut down roads around Parliament and Whitehall, with vehicles and bikes, and banners reading “tell the truth” and “No coal mines, no fracking”.
Parliament Square was empty of traffic except for police vans and bicycles, while helicopters circled overhead, as protesters created roadblocks on Westminster and Lambeth Bridges, Victoria Street, Whitehall and the Mall.
Some 21 people had already been arrested by 8am, the Metropolitan Police said, as what is expected to be two weeks of action in the capital got under way.
Lydia Dibben, 21, was protesting with Extinction Rebellion Leeds.
She said: “We believe that conventional forms of protesting like marches and writing to your MP and signing petitions, those have failed, because the science has been around for 30 plus years that this is a climate emergency. And we need to be acting now and nothing’s been done. Campaigns have been going on for the same amount of time. And nothing has been done.”
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said that although people had the right to protest but said: “It is essential that people can continue to go about their business, get to and from work, visit family and have access to vital services.
“But the right to peaceful protest does not extend to unlawful activity.
“The Government expects the police to take a firm stance against protesters who significantly disrupt the lives of others and to use the full force of the law.”
But Miss Dibben said: “We’re disrupting business as usual, because business as usual will not be able to continue as this crisis worsens. We’re going to start experiencing food shortages in Europe in the next three years, that’s so so soon. And there’s going to be a point, when things are going to start getting so bad, that business as usual is forced to end. And by that point, it will actually be too late to save humanity from extinction.
“So we’re sorry that we’re disrupting people’s day to day lives. But if we don’t do this, it’s going to be a hell of a lot worse.”
Activists say the protests could be as much as five times bigger than those held in April, which brought major disruption to London and saw more than 1,100 arrests.
It is part of an “international rebellion” around the world, with action taking place in cities including Berlin, Madrid, Amsterdam and New York.
In the UK, Extinction Rebellion is calling on the Government to declare a climate and ecological emergency, to act immediately to halt wildlife loss and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2025.
They also want to see the Government create and be led by the decisions of a Citizens’ Assembly on climate and ecological justice.
Nathan Strathdee, an engineering student at the University of Sheffield who is originally from Leeds, joined the protest with Extinction Rebellion Sheffield.
He said Sheffield demonstrators had been arrested and they also had a vehicle confiscated by police.
He said: “Most of the people arrested are convicted, and we’re not doing this for a laugh.
“We’re not doing this because we want to sit in the middle of the road in London and see the Houses of Parliament for a day.
“We’re doing this because we really care abut people, not just our future but the future of people and children around the world.”
He added: “The police have been more proactive and made it more difficult for us, but we’d expected that.”
Activists with the Extinction Rebellion movement blocked roads across major European cities, kicking off a wide-ranging series of protests demanding much more urgent action against climate change.
In Berlin, around 1,000 people blocked the Grosser Stern, a traffic circle in the middle of the German capital’s Tiergarten park dominated by the landmark Victory Column.
At lunchtime, another 300 people blocked Berlin’s central Potsdamer Platz, placing couches, tables, chairs and flowerpots on the road. Roads were also blocked in Madrid and Amsterdam, but police said protests were peaceful.