Greenpeace protesters draped the private home of British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in black fabric on Thursday, hanging huge sheets of it from the roof as they stepped up their campaign against his government’s policy on drilling for oil.
Four protesters used ladders to get onto the roof of the constituency home in Yorkshire, northern England, where they said they spent five hours in what a former senior police officer described as a “major breach of security”.
Sunak left Britain for a holiday in California on Wednesday. Five protesters in total were arrested.
Sunak’s record on environmental issues has come under scrutiny after he said he would take a “proportionate approach” to climate change that balances net zero ambitions with the need to keep consumers’ bills down.
That has drawn fury from climate protesters who have disrupted high-profile sporting events, classical music concerts and political speeches.
In response, Sunak’s ministers have introduced new laws to clamp down on “eco-mob” protester tactics including slow walking in busy roads and “locking-on” to buildings or infrastructure.
Pictures posted online by Greenpeace UK on Thursday showed the protesters on top of the property while a banner read “RISHI SUNAK – OIL PROFITS OR OUR FUTURE?”
Arguing they needed “a climate leader, not a climate arsonist” they said they were taking the message directly to Sunak because he had signed off on a raft of new oil and gas extraction licences.
Greenpeace said they were also protesting against a proposed development of Equinor’s EQNR.OL Rosebank oilfield, which is subject to a final investment decision.
Peter Walker, the former deputy chief constable at the North Yorkshire Police force, told LBC radio he was “astonished” at what he called a “major breach of security”. Greenpeace said they had been careful to ensure no one was in the building.
A separate protest also took place outside Sunak’s official Downing Street residence and office on Thursday.
Britain in 2019 set a 2050 net zero carbon emission target and was quick to build up its renewable energy capacity.
But Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has turned the spotlight on energy security, with the government on Monday committing to granting hundreds of licences for North Sea oil and gas extraction as part of efforts to become more energy independent.
It also approved its first new deep coal mine in decades in December.
A poll released on Wednesday showed 67 per cent of voters thought the government was handling environmental issues badly, the worst rating since mid-2019 when YouGov began tracking public opinion on the issue.
Some in Sunak’s Conservative party are alarmed over the prime minister’s perceived backsliding over environmental commitments, with one minister, who quit in June, saying Sunak was uninterested in green issues.
Sunak defended his environmental record on Wednesday, saying Britain had done a better job than other major countries in cutting carbon emissions.
“We make no apology for taking the right approach to ensure our energy security, using the resources we have here at home so we are never reliant on aggressors like (Vladimir) Putin for our energy,” a source in his office said on Thursday in response to the protest.