By Bradley Bernard
Chief Leader Writer
A LONE barrister holds up a blank piece of paper outside the Houses of Parliament.
Police, naturally on increased alert, ask for his details and confirm that, if he had written ‘Not My King’ on the paper, he would be arrested.
This is the United Kingdom in 2022.
Amid the furore and mourning around tomorrow’s funeral, there has been a dangerous undercurrent of authoritarianism on eerie display.
Republican dissenters have been arrested both in Edinburgh and London over the past week. Their crimes? If they didn’t hold up a piece of paper, they may have voiced their dissent at royal figures.
The death of any monarch – let alone one who reigned for 70 years – will naturally throw a populace, and wider state apparatus, into a sense of confusion and overreach.
But the suppression of free speech – regardless of whether the UK is in a period of national mourning or not – is extremely worrying.
We have seen little resistance from our representatives, either. Among prominent MPs, just David Davis, Clive Lewis and Jeremy Corbyn have spoken out.
Downing Street has not been overly sympathetic.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesperson said this week that, while there is a right to protest, it is also “for the police to decide what is appropriate in individual circumstances”.
And as usual, one shouldn’t expect much from the former Director of Public Prosecutions – now leader of the Labour Party – Sir Keir Starmer.
As well as banning his own MPs from speaking out on any matter except to pay tribute to the Queen during the period of national mourning, he has also called on anti-monarchist protestors to show “respect”.
To Lewis’ credit, he defied both orders on Saturday, penning a brave article in the Guardian which called out the royal family as part of the Establishment.
The issue is that Lewis’ intervention is spectacular primarily because of its rarity as well as its content. It would be no surprise if he is slapped down by LOTO in the coming days.
When citizens who speak out against the monarchy are arrested and MPs told to stay silent during a cost-of-living crisis while millions are spent on a state funeral, the monarchist-republican divide looks ever more farcical.
Fan of Queen Elizabeth or not, one must answer the fundamental question – does upholding her legacy mean stretching the UK’s ever-expanding authoritarian system and suppressing free speech?
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