Last weekend, five arrests were made during Saturday’s protests against the Oxfordshire City Council’s low-traffic neighbourhood (LTN) trials. Far-right groups such as Patriotic Alternative, self-proclaimed ‘white nationalist’ organisation, were also in attendance, joining the approximately 2000 protesters.
Two of the arrests, a 27-year-old woman and a 37-year-old man, were made for failing to remove facemasks when requested by a constable. Other arrests were made on suspicion of disorderly and threatening behaviour.
The protest was primarily against the low-traffic neighbourhood scheme which seeks to limit motorised travel in residential areas by creating six no-traffic zones in Cowley and east Oxford which require drivers to obtain permits that are valid for 100 days in a year. Organisations such as CoviLeaks, British Lions for Freedom and Keep it Cash spearheaded the campaign, handing out leaflets against general government intervention such as digital IDs, currencies and continued vaccination. The participation of British Lions for Freedom in the protest formed part of their “2023 Freedom Rebellion tour”, aimed at fighting “the information war”, caused by endemic “media lies”, according to their online manifesto.
Piers Corbyn, brother of Jeremy Corbyn, weatherman turned ‘anti-climate change activist’ and one particularly outspoken critic of ‘traffic zoning’ in low-traffic neighbourhoods was photographed by the Oxford Mail at the protest. Sporting a tee-shirt adorning slogan “Resist! Defy! Do Not Comply!” and holding a poster brandishing the phrase “NO ZONING”, he told the Oxford Mail: “They’re all about controlling you, charging you money and promoting the climate con. There’s no such thing as man-made climate change and that’s been used as an excuse to justify all sorts of tyrannical moves and we oppose them all.”
Patriotic Alternative member Joe Marsh, a self-proclaimed white nationalist, was also present, holding a cardboard sign that read, “NOT FAR RIGHT JUST RIGHT SO FAR”.
A counter-protest arose on Bonn Square, led by Ian McKendrick, representative of Stand Up to Racism. The Stand Up to Racism Press release urged “the Oxford anti-LTN campaign to boycott the “Our Community Our Choice” event on February 18th because of their fascist links…and fascist groups who see LTN campaigns as an opportunity to grow.” McKendrick voiced concerns that the tumult of LTN protests was being used by right-wing, neo-Nazi groups as a way of covertly recruiting new members.
A confrontation between the two groups emerged when a group of face-covering mask-wearing ‘anti-fascists’ attempted to rush the larger LTN protest. Escalation was prevented by the notable police presence, including several mounted officers.
One student told Cherwell: “The protests were pretty disruptive to be honest. I had family visiting the city that day and it created a completely different atmosphere than usual. It was really difficult trying to show them around and in the end we completely avoided Broad Street.”
According to Thames Valley Police, the demonstrations are said to have unfolded peacefully without major mishaps. The Thames Valley Police have come under criticism for the inaction against a counter-protest, where a masked group traded insults with those taking part in the anti-LTN protest.
In a statement posted on Facebook, the Thames Valley Police said: “The footage that Thames Valley Police is aware of will be reviewed and action can be taken retrospectively where offences have been identified. Our operation incorporated officers on the ground, interacting with and speaking with the public, and various other roles, including intelligence and monitoring. As a force, we would like to place on record our thanks to the vast majority of those who attended and conducted themselves in a peaceful and lawful manner.”