Protests of more than two people will be banned during England’s second national lockdown, the government has indicated.
It was reported that a previous exemption that allowed protests to go ahead will be removed from the latest coronavirus legislation.
The new measures will be voted on by MPs in the House of Commons on Wednesday but are expected to go through, paving the way for the lockdown to begin on Thursday, lasting until 2 December.
On Tuesday, The Times reported that home secretary Priti Patel has briefed chief constables across England and told them that police forces are expected to enforce the new rule around protests.
Under the new lockdown measures, individuals may only meet one other person outdoors.
Quoting a Whitehall source, The Times said the government would remove an exemption from its coronavirus legislation that previously allowed demonstrations to take place.
Large protests were permitted during the first national lockdown, despite complaints from people who weren’t allowed to see their own families.
Patel reportedly had a “firm” conversation with the chief constable of Avon and Somerset Police after protesters were allowed to topple the statue of slave trader Edward Colston in June.
Watch: Home secretary ‘ruling nothing out’ on COVID measures
The Home Office has indicated that large protests will not be permitted in the second lockdown.
A Home Office spokeswoman told Yahoo News UK: “The right to peaceful protest is one of the cornerstones of our democracy.
“In these unprecedented circumstances, any gathering risks spreading the disease, leading to more deaths, so it is vital we all play our part in controlling the virus.
“People must follow the rules on meeting with others, which apply to all gatherings and therefore protests too.
“As they have done throughout the pandemic, the police and local authorities will engage, explain and encourage people to follow the rules before moving on to enforce the law.”
Human rights barrister Adam Wagner said the reported change in the law was “worrying”.
He tweeted: “Obviously there is a balance to be struck between preventing the virus and basic right – but with the government using unprecedented executive powers to impose restrictions, protest is hugely important.”
Watch: Can you catch coronavirus twice?
Coronavirus: what happened today
Click here to sign up to the latest news and information with our daily Catch-up newsletter