LOCKDOWNS, a global recession and the impact of Brexit could combine to create a “flashpoint” of civil disobedience, Wiltshire’s top police officer fears.
Chief Constable Kier Pritchard said police forces in the south west were prepared to deal with public disorder – but warned that officers could be moved from normal duties if they were called on to police a “hotbed of civil disobedience”.
The senior officer told the Adver: “Each week that passes when those restrictions continue, there is a real risk and a real vulnerability that some of that tinderbox of societal concern may bubble over into protest, into disorder. The disharmony we are starting to see across the public is, I think, is a real risk.”
His comments followed protests both in Wiltshire and nationally over the summer, including Black Lives Matter marches and demonstrations protesting lockdown measures.
And this week, UK politicians have watched in horror as hundreds laid siege to the Capitol in Washington D.C. in violent protests against the US election result. Prime Minister Boris Johnson condemned President Donald Trump for ‘encouraging people to behave in the disgraceful way they did’.
Trump supporters try to break through a police barrier at the Capitol in Washington on Wednesday Picture: AP Photo/John Minchillo
Mr Pritchard said police were used to dealing with extra demand in winter, with bad weather, mental ill-health and heightened domestic violence all having an impact on the force.
Into the mix was added the pressures of coronavirus restrictions and Brexit.
“We’ve seen social and civil disobedience through the summer and into the latter part. There are members of the community who, no matter what the cause, will use that as a channel to push back towards society, who will push back towards the authorities in for instance anti-lockdown, anti-restriction, anti-virus, coronavirus is a conspiracy,” he said.
“My real concern is that we are entering into 2021 with a new deep global recession.
“We’ve had a one year spending settlement from the chancellor. We can see the billions of pounds that have been offered out through furlough, through support schemes. So much of that needs to be drawn back in. A one year settlement has almost just treading water.
“Then, the country and the world will go into a deep global recession. The impact of that recession is, I think, likely to manifest in significant unemployment, which we’ve started to see.”
Mr Pritchard added: “I feel that pressure of recession meets all of those other challenges could be the very flashpoint that brings some challenge.”
Kier Pritchard Picture: CALYX PICTURES
South Swindon MP and Justice Secretary Robert Buckland said: “This government has provided unprecedented levels of support to businesses and individuals to help them through Covid and we will build back better from the pandemic. We’re recruiting 20,000 new police orders and delivering the highest levels of investment in the justice system for a generation to keep our communities safe. I have every faith that our Police will handle any challenges the coming months may pose.”
Earlier this week, the Home Secretary promised to give police increased powers to keep the country safe post-Brexit. Priti Patel wrote in the Sunday Telegraph: “Having left the EU means we can give these agencies stronger powers to keep this country safe and protect our homeland security.”
Her claim that the UK could be safer post-Brexit was challenged by former Met Police commissioner Lord Blair. Citing the fact the UK would no longer have access to an EU police database, he told the BBC: “We’ve lost powers. We’ve lost full access to Europe-wide, real-time databases on criminal records, DNA, fingerprints, criminal intelligence.”