Priti Patel has urged police to use new powers to shut down protests after fuel price campaigners held up highways around the country, according to reports.
At least 13 protesters were arrested on Monday for driving too slowly when blocking roads in a call for fuel duty to be slashed to slow the soaring cost of filling up a car.
The so-called “go-slow” protests spread across Britain’s road network. Most of the arrests took place on the M4 though drivers also protested on the M54, M62, A38 and several other roads.
Controversial new laws which came into effect on 28 June give police increased powers to deal with protests deemed to be causing serious disruption.
The laws were introduced in response to Extinction Rebellion and Insulate Britain environmental protests which blocked roads en masse.
Along with giving police greater powers of dispersal, the government has increased penalties for protesters. While “Wilful obstruction of the highway” used to be punishable by a maximum fine of £50, it now carries up to a six month prison sentence and/or an unlimited fine.
After a day of 30mph traffic on the motorways, Priti Patel was reportedly moved to remind police of their new powers.
The Mail and The Telegraph carried a quote attributed to a Home Office source which read: “Through our Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act, we have given the police a wealth of powers to deal with disruptive and damaging protests, including imprisonment and unlimited fines for those blocking a highway – actions which inflict further pain on those affected by rising prices.
“The Home Secretary would encourage and support the police to make use of all the powers available to them. Forces need to move people on. These protests are blocking people from getting to work and from carrying out other vital journeys – this is not about whether you believe in the cause or not.”
The Independent has approached the Home Office for comment.
Monday’s protests, which started at around 7am, were understood to have been organised via social media under the banner Fuel Price Stand Against Tax.
They were launched as the latest figures from Experian showed the average price of petrol reached a new high of 191.5p per litre on Sunday, while the average price of diesel was 199.0p per litre.
One woman who took part in the M4 protest, Vicky Stamper, 41, was a former HGV driver from Cwmbran, South Wales. She said she and her partner Darren had to give up jobs in Bristol because they could no longer afford the fuel.
“We had to leave those jobs because it was costing us £380 a week just to get to and from work,” she said.
Considering the disruption the protest will cause to drivers, Ms Stamper said: “We’re doing this for us and for them. If they want to have a moan, they should join us instead.” Ms Stamper was later arrested taking part in the protest.
RAC fuel spokesman Simon Williams said it was time for the government to “take action” and cut fuel duty again or reduce VAT to help “hard-pressed drivers and businesses”.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak said last week he would carefully consider calls for a “more substantial” fuel duty decrease after the 5p-per-litre reduction implemented in March failed to halt price rises.
The government said that, while it understands that people are struggling with rising prices and have a right to protest, “people’s day-to-day lives should not be disrupted” and warned that traffic delays “will only add to fuel use”.