The former home secretary David Blunkett has said the police, crime, sentencing and courts bill risks making the UK “more like Putin’s Russia”, and that it would be a “lasting and toxic” legacy for the prime minister.
Writing in the Guardian, Blunkett, who served as home secretary under Tony Blair, has said the government’s plans to use the bill to prevent peaceful protests would “leave a bad taste in the mouths of British people who value tolerance, democracy and open debate”.
“By giving police forces sweeping discretion about how they deal with protesters, this law would drive a wedge between them and the public,” he said.
“Tolerating dissent and protest is a British value, and it’s central to our democracy. It’s ironic that this bill would mean far harsher treatment for protesters in Parliament Square, where statues commemorate Mandela and Gandhi, leaders of historic disruptive, noisy and annoying protest movements now taught in British schools.”
In reference to the criticism the Metropolitan police faced in their handling of the Sarah Everard vigil, Blunkett said the pressure the Met’s commissioner, Cressida Dick, faced “gives us an inkling of the controversies that could blaze across the country if these sweeping powers are pushed on to the police”.
Blunkett’s comments came after a series of “kill the bill” protests against the proposed legislation. In Bristol, police were criticised for falsely claiming officers suffered broken bones during the protests, as well as allegedly assaulting a journalist who was present.
More “kill the bill” protests are planned at the weekend, with police warning protesters that they may be in breach of Covid-19 restrictions if they attend.
Blunkett said that the effects of the legislation passing would be felt across the political spectrum. He said although it was “easy to stereotype the protesters as leftwing”, the bill would mean “alienating others across the centre and right wing of the electorate whom the government won’t want – or can’t afford – to lose”.
He warned that if the bill was to pass into law unamended there would be “more ugly conflicts between the public and the police – and a police force that’s weaker for it”.
“Banning protest would make us more like Putin’s Russia than the UK. It would be a lasting and toxic legacy for Boris Johnson.”
As home secretary, Blunkett faced criticism for the Police Reform Act of 2002, which critics argued would compromise police autonomy and “created the risk that the police could be manipulated for political purposes”.