Police forces urged by government to crack down on UK fuel protests


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Police have been urged by the UK government to take a zero-tolerance approach to fuel campaigners who brought motorways to a standstill on Monday.

Following the demonstrations by Fuel Price Stand Against Tax, which resulted in 13 arrests, home secretary Priti Patel is prepared to use new legal powers to prevent further disruption over the summer.

The move comes as ministers fear the movement could morph into a repeat of the “gilets jaunes” protests that caused havoc in France in recent years.

The protests against the record high cost of fuel appeared to be largely co-ordinated through a group on Facebook, where there was some discussion about future protests in central London. But there were no signs of further disruption on the UK’s roads on Tuesday morning.

The demonstrations coincided with wider disruption across the transport system, with delays at airports and more train strikes threatened by the railway unions.

Roads affected on Monday included the M4, M5, A12 and A64, with vehicles crawling at just 30mph in two lanes.

The cost of petrol has rocketed from 145p to 191p since the start of this year.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak in March cut duty on fuel by 5p a litre, but that has had little effect. Although Sunak has not ruled out a further reduction, the government said any announcement must wait until the autumn Budget.

Breakdown assistance group the RAC on Monday called on big retailers to cut the cost of petrol by 5p a litre after it hit a record of 191.53p a litre, while diesel remained on the brink of £2.

Downing Street said prime minister Boris Johnson expected the police to act under the new Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act to halt the protests.

The new legislation, intended mainly to tackle climate protesters, has increased the maximum penalty for blocking a highway to six months’ imprisonment and an unlimited fine. “The government has given the police a lot of powers to deal with this sort of stuff and we are looking to them to use it,” a government official said.

The disruption is the latest to hit the UK’s road network over the past year, after climate protesters blocked motorways.

National Highways, the operator of England’s trunk roads, won an injunction banning further blockades in September after campaigners from the group Insulate Britain blocked the M25 five times in a week.

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