Tory leadership contender Liz Truss today vowed to take action against “militant activists” after her speech to a campaign hustings was interrupted by hecklers.
Five environmental protesters joined an action by the group Green New Deal Rising at the event in Eastbourne, rising one by one from the audience to say loudly to the would-be prime minister: “Liz Truss, you should be ashamed of yourself”.
A livestream of the hustings on the Conservative Party website was briefly halted as the protesters were removed from the hall.
As the audience chanted “Out! Out!”, the foreign secretary halted her speech, saying: “I think we have some infiltrators and I will wait until they are evicted.”
And when she resumed her speech, Ms Truss won applause from Tory activists by announcing that as PM she would “never, ever, ever allow our democracy to be disrupted by unfair protests”.
But protester Fatima Ibrahim – the first to stand and confront the foreign secretary – said that the group had disrupted the event because the promises being made by Ms Truss and her rival Rishi Sunak during the leadership campaign would make the climate change problem worse, rather than resolving it.
Ms Ibrahim said: “This is a critical moment for our country. Our next prime minister should be responding to what the majority wants, which is good wages, secure jobs and a safe climate.
“But Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak are clogging up the airwaves with policies that will make things worse, not better.
“Energy bills are set to rise to over £3,000 a year and nothing they have announced will come anywhere near putting that money back in people’s pockets. We disrupted the hustings tonight to send a clear message that we are the majority and we are rising up.”
Speaking after the removal of the hecklers, the frontrunner in the race to replace Boris Johnson won loud applause as she said: “Can I just say a few words on the militant people who try and disrupt our country and who try and disrupt our democratic process and try and disrupt our essential services.
“I would legislate immediately to make sure that we are standing up to militant trade unions who stop ordinary commuters getting into work. And I would legislate to protect our essential services.
“I will make sure that militant activists such as Extinction Rebellion are not able to disrupt ordinary people who work hard and do the right thing and go into work.
“And I will never, ever, ever allow our democracy to be disrupted by unfair protests.”
Later on, another protester interrupted a question and answer session with Tory members, addressing a green tirade at Ms Truss.
The leadership contender listened for a few moments before realising she was again being targeted by the protest, telling activists: “I just take it as a compliment that I’m so popular with Extinction Rebellion.”
Ms Truss insisted she was a supporter of freedom of speech.
But she said: “What I think is wrong is when Extinction Rebellion activists glue themselves to trains and disrupt commuters who are going about their business.
“I’m fine with peaceful protests, but the situation we had in Parliament Square, with a whole bunch of people camped in tents for weeks and weeks on end is not the same a peaceful protest.
“I’m a believer in freedom to do as you want provided you don’t harm others. That’s the fundamental concept for me.
“But I think we’ve got to a stage in our society where there is deliberately disruptive activity which isn’t just about peaceful protest, it’s about trying to disrupt democracy, trying to disrupt people’s everyday lives. I think that’s a problem.
“There’s a balance to be struck but one person’s freedom should not mean that other people suffer misery.”
Ms Ibrahim said: “Liz Truss is leading in the polls and is likely to become the next prime minister but she has nothing credible to say in response to the cost-of-living crisis and the climate crisis.
“The UK just experienced record-breaking heatwaves and energy giants are raking in billions of profit whilst every day people are pushed further into poverty as prices soar and wages stagnate.
“As young people who are scared for our futures, we desperately need a Green New Deal and political leadership to meet this moment of crisis rather than this sideshow.”