Policing and Borders Bills: why people protested in St Peter’s Square and what’s next for Manchester campaign

Organisers of the city centre demonstration said that the campaign against the controversial legislation goes on.

Organisers of the campaign against two controversial pieces of legislation in Manchester have spoken after hundreds of people attended a demonstration in the city centre.

The Kill the Bill Coalition held a protest, marching from St Peter’s Square in Manchester, on Saturday (15 January) to show opposition to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill and the Nationality and Borders Bill.

The expressions of public concern at the bills were followed on Monday night (17 January) by the House of Lords inflicting a series of defeats on the Government when it considered the new legislation on policing and the criminal justice system.

Despite this, the campaigners say there is still a long way to go as they are demanding both bills are scrapped in their entirety.

Protestors marching through Manchester city centre on the Kill The Bill national day of action. Photo: Andy Barton

What was the protest in Manchester city centre?

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Organisers estimated that as many as 1,000 people took part in the Manchester city centre demonstration on Saturday against the two pieces of legislation.

The event was followed by a major setback for the Government in the House of Lords over the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, while the upper house is also scrutinising the Nationality and Borders Bill at the reading stage.

The Kill the Bill Coalition in Manchester is made up of around 40 groups including ACORN Manchester, All Black Lives Matter Manchester, Cops Off Campus UoM, Extinction Rebellion Manchester, Manchester Momentum, Manchester People’s Assembly, Manchester Trades Union Council, No Borders Manchester, No More Exclusions Manchester, Sisters Uncut Manchester and Youth Climate Swarm Manchester.

Campaigners described the legislation as “racist and authoritarian”. Edda from the Kill the Bill Coalition said: “It was amazing to see the streets of Manchester so full. At one point a tram driver waved at us in solidarity.

“We got a bit of antagonism but broadly it felt like the people on the streets were with us.

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“Recently more people knew about the bill than in previous outreach sessions, more people were angry about it and more people wanted to talk about it, and it was the same with flyering on the day.

“It wasn’t just the people brave enough to show up but the public in the centre of town were on board with us as well.”

Why are the campaigners protesting against the two bills?

Protestors have slammed both the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill and the Nationality and Borders Bill.

The campaign has been scathing about the way the legislation will impact ethnic minority communities, make it harder for people to seek asylum and restrict people’s rights to protest if their activities are deemed to be a “serious disruption” or “serious annoyance”.

The coalition wants the money that would be spent on policing, prisons and a tougher border regime under the bills to be channelled instead into the cost-of-living crisis, social housing, schools, social and health care.

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Edda said: “We are concerned about secure schools, which are in effect youth prisons, surveillance and pre-criminalisation structures like the Serious Violence Duty which will target young Black men, suspicionless stop and search beyond protests which will affect Black, brown and Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people.

“Another part is the criminalisation of trespass which will criminalise certain forms of protest like climate camps but most significantly will criminalise nomadic people.

“It will include seizing their home and breaking up families. This will add greater criminalisation of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people than the substantial amount we see already.

“There are provisions that allow the police to demand the details of any individual statutory services are working with. That will cause mistrust and alienation, predominantly among Black communities, and make them less likely to engage with these services.

“The Bill makes police less accountable, removing culpability for fatalities and injuries in pursuits, and there are shortened or reduced parole options as well as increased minimum sentencing for young people aged 18 to 21 when we are one of the few countries which already sentences people the way we do.

“The Nationality and Borders Bill allows citizenship to be removed, reduces the forms of seeking asylum, decriminalises responsibility for fatalities in pushback operations at the border and raises the prospect of offshore detention centres.

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“We’ve already seen inhuman abuses at detention centres on our shores like Yarl’s Wood, and records from Australia show human rights abuse at offshore centres that we would never want to see here or anywhere else.”

Edda said some aspects of the Bills directly affect Greater Manchester Police (GMP) and expressed particular concerns about police pursuits in the city-region.

What did the campaigners make of events in the House of Lords?

Home Secretary Priti Patel says that the laws are designed to curb disruptive behaviour by protesters like Insulate Britain, who have glued themselves to roads.

However, the Government’s plans for the police, crime and sentencing bill suffered a huge setback when the House of Lords inflicted a string of defeats on ministers while scrutinising the legislation.

Measures which were removed included a ban on noisy protests, suspicionless stop and search and making ‘locking-on’ a specific offence.

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While campaigners said this was welcome and praised the role of protestors in the victories they still described the remaining legislation as “dangerous” and said the fight would go on.

Protestors making their feelings known against the policing and borders bills in Manchester. Photo: Andy Barton

Edda said: “Credit goes to everyone who turned out to Kill the Bill in any way, shape or form.

“We’ve got a partial win but not a total one. It’s the first step in a much wider set of concerns around resisting authoritarianism and state power.”

An open meeting is being held as the campaigners will now discuss the next step in the movement against the two bills.

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What else have Manchester organisations in the coalition said?

The coalition brings together groups including environmental organisations, anti-racist concerns, groups working with asylum seekers and refugees, LGBTQ+ groups, feminist organisations and trade unions.

A member of Extinction Rebellion (XR) said: “These bills are a direct attack on human rights. The right to protest has been key in holding governments accountable throughout history.

“XR has been directly targeted by this bill, when all we ask is for the Government to listen to the science on the climate crisis. These bills are a mere distraction from the climate crisis in order to increase state powers.”

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A member of No Borders Manchester said: “The Nationality and Borders Bill will drastically increase the powers of border force officials and undermine the human rights of people seeking asylum in Britain.

“It categorises people looking for safety based on their route of arrival. This categorisation impacts their access to housing, financial stability and status.

“This government is directly contravening international human rights legislation and putting people before profit. Just like the Police, Courts and Sentencing Bill, the Nationality and Borders Bill will especially affect the rights and experiences of racialised and minoritised communities who are disproportionately represented in our prisons and detention centres.

“Both bills are focused on challenging human rights, breaking communities apart and dividing us”.

Protests took place in other UK cities including London, Bristol,Newcastle and Liverpool.