A Tory lockdown sceptic has called for the government to immediately lift the ban on protests amid the ongoing fallout over the Met Police’s handling of the Sarah Everard vigil.
Sir Charles Walker, who has been one of the most vocal critics of the government’s coronavirus lockdown rules, called for protests to be allowed as soon as “this evening”.
“Let’s allow people to get things off their chest once again,” he told home secretary Priti Patel in the House of Commons on Monday.
On Saturday, officers clashed with crowds gathered on Clapham Common in south London to remember the 33-year-old marketing executive, who went missing while walking home from a friend’s flat on 3 March. Serving Met officer Wayne Couzens, 48, has been charged with kidnapping and murdering her.
There have been calls, including from Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey, for Met commissioner Dame Cressida Dick to resign over her officers’ handling of the gathering on Saturday – though Boris Johnson has backed her.
Watch: Boris Johnson backs Met Police chief Dame Cressida Dick
Walker, however, appeared to suggest the fault laid with MPs who passed lockdown rules in January which restrict the right to protest.
Walker, who was one of 16 MPs who voted against the lockdown becoming law, said: “This House criminalised the freedom of protest. This House – us. Not Dame Cressida, not the Metropolitan Police – we did. We criminalised the freedom to protest collectively.
“We are up to our eyeballs in this.”
He went on: “Now is the time to decriminalise freedom of protest. Not tomorrow, not next week, but this afternoon, this evening.
“Let’s get people back on the streets, let’s allow people to get things off their chest once again. Protest is a safety valve.”
Patel rejected this, saying “there is a road map [out of England's lockdown] that has been laid out”.
“We are still in a pandemic and we are following with the guidance that has been put in place.”
Walker has spoken out against the government on numerous occasions in recent months.
In December, he accused it of talking about older people “as if they’re not in the room” as he called for them to be given freedom from the restrictions.
Last month, Walker also rounded on “utterly ridiculous” health secretary Matt Hancock over his announcement that people who lie about visiting a "red list" country will face a 10-year prison sentence.
Patel, who was in the Commons answering an urgent question on policing and prevention of violence against women, had earlier urged people not to participate in large gatherings or to attend protests while COVID regulations remain in place.
“The right to protest is the cornerstone of our democracy, but the government’s duty remains to prevent more lives being lost during this pandemic.”
Watch: Government is committed to tackling violence against women, says Priti Patel