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Insulate Britain: what do they want?

Home secretary plans to increase penalties for disrupting motorways amid road protest chaos

Insulate Britain has “profoundly” apologised for causing mass disruption to major roads outside London after the prime minister labelled the protesters “irresponsible crusties”.

The climate activists have blocked motorways close to London, including the M25 and M4, over the past three weeks to demonstrate against the government’s lack of action on insulating homes.

Speaking on LBC earlier this week, Boris Johnson said: “I think they are irresponsible crusties who are basically trying to stop people going about their day’s work and doing considerable damage to the economy.”

He added that his government “will give the police the powers they need to stop their reckless and selfish behaviour”.

And in a speech to the Conservative Party Conference on Tuesday, Home Secretary Priti Patel said she would “not tolerate so-called eco-warriors trampling over our way of life and draining police resources”.

She announced plans to increase the maximum penalties for disrupting a motorway, as well as criminalise interference with key infrastructure such as roads, railways and the press.

But despite Insulate Britain issuing an apology, the group’s spokesperson has said that unless politicians take action on climate change, “these inconveniences will continue”.

Climate activists have been causing major disruptions to traffic by blockading the UK’s busiest motorway in protest against the government’s lack of action on insulating homes.

Dozens of Insulate Britain campaigners have been arrested during weeks of protests that have seen some gluing themselves to the M25 and other motorways during peak times. 

More than 100 Insulate Britain protesters were served with an injunction against road-blocking demonstrations at the Royal Court of Justice on Tuesday. 

Group origins

Insulate Britain is an “offshoot” of climate change protest group Extinction Rebellion (XR), reported ITV News.

The smaller group’s Facebook page confirms that Insulate Britain was “set up by people in XR and related networks”. But while both use similar tactics of mass disruption and civil disobedience, the two groups are not officially affiliated. 

Insulate Britain has been holding campaign meetings “since at least June 2021”, said LBC, and was “officially formed” in August. 

Their aims

The campaigners are demanding the government perform a retrofit of all UK homes to make them more energy-efficient, in order to meet the UK climate change targets under the Paris Agreement. 

According to the Insulate Britain website, the nation’s 29 million homes are “the oldest and least energy-efficient housing stock in Europe”, with almost 15% of the UK’s total emissions coming from heating homes.

The UK “needs a nationwide programme to upgrade almost every house”, said the activists, but the government “does not have a robust long-term national strategy with a funding mechanism in place to retrofit our homes”. 

Insulate Britain has launched a petition listing two key demands to be met by Downing Street before the protests stop:

  • Fully fund and take responsibility for the insulation of all social housing in Britain by 2025.
  • Produce within four months a legally binding national plan to fund and take responsibility for the full insulation retrofit, with no externalised costs, of all homes in Britain by 2030.
The response 

According to recent YouGov polling, the British public is far from fond of the group - only 16% had either a “very favourable” or “somewhat favourable” opinion of the protesters, while 53% had either a “somewhat unfavourable” or “very unfavourable” opinion of them. 

Some high-profile figures have backed the group, however. Green MP Caroline Lucas told Sky News over the weekend that her party “believes non-violent direct action is legitimate when other forms of trying to raise issues with the government have failed”.

“In emergency situations, we need to take emergency action and I believe that's what those protesters were doing,” the former Green leader added.

Despite that argument, blocking roads is clearly going to “alienate some people”, wrote Oscar Berglund, a social policy lecturer at the University of Bristol, and Graeme Hayes, a reader in political sociology at Aston University, on The Conservation.

“But it’s still likely to be effective”, the two academics argue. The activists recognise that traditional protest methods like “strikes, sit-ins, occupations and blockades have proven more likely to achieve some degree of success than less disruptive protests such as marches, demos or petitions”.

So while they may not be “popular”, the pair conclude, the group is willing to “take the hit” to “get home insulation in the news and up the government’s agenda”.

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