Anti-Brexit activist Steve Bray holds a placard which reads 'Cost of Tory crisis' while shouting slogans during the demonstration. (Photo: SOPA Images via Getty Images)
The anti-Brexit demonstrator has become famous in recent years for campaigning all across Westminster against leaving the EU.
But this week, the former coin dealer and previous Lib Dem parliamentary candidate had his sound system taken by police officers, after the new Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act came into law.
The divisive legislation makes it an offence to intentionally or recklessly cause a public nuisance – a law originally intended to stop disruption from climate crisis activists.
The Ministry of Justice said the law also allows police to tackle non-violent, but disruptive, protests which have an impact on the public or parliamentary access.
Another law, the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act, meant that the police could take Bray’s items which were used for prohibited activities in Parliament Square.
Bray’s offence has been reported which means he may be considered for prosecution.
Still, he returned to Parliament on Wednesday, promising to stage a protest which will be “twice as loud”.
Playing songs such as the 1975 Bye Bye Baby – overlaid with “Bye Bye Boris” as a lyric – he called on officers to “arrest me” while trying to convey his message to Parliament.
So apparently I’ve been summonsed and the case will go to court. Obviously I’m going to elect Trial by Jury but I may need some legal help. pic.twitter.com/FN492x5i0c
— Steve Bray Activist Against Brexit +Corrupt Tories (@snb19692) June 28, 2022
Why is this significant?
Although Bray’s demonstration is very small, Tuesday’s police intervention shows just how the right to protest has been curtailed.
According to the new law, “serious disruption to the life of the community” – including delay to the delivery of a time-sensitive product or prolonged disruption of access to any essential goods or services – count as protests which can be addressed by police.
As the human rights organisation Liberty explained: “The new wording give the police very broad powers to decide what amounts to ‘serious disruption’.
“As a result, people are now at greater risk of being caught by the new definition and being subject to police conditions, which limits the freedom to protest.”
There is now a “noise trigger” too, where police can put conditions on protest marches if they think sound from the demonstrations will disrupt nearby organisations, or if they think it will have an impact on people in the area.
Liberty explained: “This means protests that have more support are more likely to have restrictions placed on them.”
The new law also permits ministers to make changes to how disruption in defined without going through the parliament, and forbids protesters to obstruct entrance or exit to and from Palace of Westminster.
These rules all apply to both marches and static demonstrations.
At the same time, protesters are not granted any extra rights.
Penalties for breaching these rules have been extended too. Previously, protest organisers would receive up to three months in prison and/or a fine of up to £2,500.
Now, they could receive up to 51 weeks in prison, and/or a similar fine, lowering the bar for what is seen as an offence.
Bray said the new law is ‘fascist’
Speaking after the incident, Bray said: “Under this new law, this fascist law that’s been rushed through Parliament, taking away our rights to protest, they want protesters to just stand there with their hands folded.
“But protest is all about sound and vision, without that you’re not a protest, but they don’t want dissent, and they don’t like me.”
Human rights group Amnesty International said this was a “dark day for liberty in our country”, adding: “The deeply authoritarian new policing laws are a charter for the suppression of legitimate protest.”
On Twitter, Liberty pointed out that “protesting at sites like parliament is part of functioning democracy...especially when Gov is bringing in further laws that make it harder to challenge them”.
How have people reacted?
Tory backbencher, Andrea Leadsom, tweeted out her praise for the action by the police, declaring Bray’s protest to be “violent.
She said Bray “spent six years screaming abuse through a loudhailer at me and many others as often as he saw us for the ‘crime’ of trying to fulfil the democratic decision of the UK to leave the EU”.
However, not many people agreed.
‘Violent’? You didn’t need new laws to deal with ‘violent’ protests but you did need new laws to curtail Steve Bray’s freedom of speech. What an outrageous & unintentionally illuminating slur. Shame on you. https://t.co/3fU5JYqi5o
— James Oh Brien (@mrjamesob) June 28, 2022
Solidarity with my anti - Brexit friend Steve Bray..targeted for being too "noisy".
The latest UK Government approach to protest...trying to cancel it. https://t.co/KXaFv0E0k7
— Guy Verhofstadt (@guyverhofstadt) June 29, 2022
Steve Bray protests every week under my office window blasting out the same tunes on repeat so believe me I more then most should be relieved…
But I’m not - I’m horrified his right to protest is being removed by this awful legislation & government.
He is absolutely spot on👇 https://t.co/tykSZfXebX
— lan Byrne MP (@IanByrneMP) June 28, 2022
For five years this government and their fellow travellers have banged on about how cancel culture is bad and free speech is sacred. But here's Steve Bray and his free speech getting cancelled by these very people and the silence is deafening.
— Otto English (@Otto_English) June 28, 2022
BREAKING: Nation unclear why Steve Bray is not allowed to yell at politicians when Priti Patel spends all day screaming at her staff in the Home Office x
— Laura Kuenssberg Translator (@BBCFLauraKT) June 28, 2022
From today the police have new powers to arrest anyone called Steve Bray who annoys a Tory.
— Parody Boris (@Parody_PM) June 28, 2022
How long before @metpoliceuk take the view that what @SamCoatesSky is doing isn’t so very different from what @snb19692 is doing? Let’s consider very carefully where this going. pic.twitter.com/p7dC2vTNt4
— Tim Walker (@ThatTimWalker) June 29, 2022
First they came for Steve Bray, and I said nothing, because I was enjoying the silence.
— Tom Hamilton (@thhamilton) June 28, 2022
Things that are legal:
Giving £billions to mates in PPE contracts, breaking lockdown rules, lying to Parliament, asking Tory donors to pay my bills, giving public money to women I’m shagging.
Things that are illegal:
Protesting against the government#RightToProtest Steve Bray
— Parody Boris (@Parody_PM) June 28, 2022
— Brendan May (@bmay) June 28, 2022
Talk about backfiring…
… after the government’s new authoritarian policing bill came into force today - and the police grabbed Steve Bray’s amps, he’s been all over BBC, Twitter - and his crowdfunder has shot up at breathtaking speed.
— Mike Galsworthy (@mikegalsworthy) June 28, 2022
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.