Climate activists ‘won’t leave tunnel until Government makes meaningful promise’

Climate activists 'won't leave tunnel until Government makes meaningful promise'

Climate activists said they will not leave a tunnel dug beneath an Essex road until the Government makes a "meaningful statement" on halting future fossil fuel licences.

Several Just Stop Oil campaigners have dug and been occupying the tunnel underneath St Clements Way in Grays - a key delivery route for the nearby oil terminal - since August 23 to protest against Government inaction over the climate crisis.

Essex Police have arrested dozens of people in relation to the protest and have been negotiating with the remaining occupiers.

But Samuel Johnson, 29, from Suffolk, who is one of three people still inside, said they will not leave until certain promises have been made.

Xavier Gonzalez-Trimmer, 21, from London, and Joe Howlett, 32, from Bath are also still occupying the tunnel.

Speaking to the PA news agency on Friday, Mr Johnson said: "We're going to come out as soon as the government makes a statement, a meaningful statement, they will halt on new future licences and consents for the exploration and production of fossil fuels in the UK."

On dealing with the Essex Police negotiators, Mr Johnson said: "They had made us promises that they're going to do a press release so we're still waiting on that, the press release basically with them admitting their knowledge of the climate emergency and the effect it has on law and order.

"That's forthcoming. It's been promised but we're not holding our breath at the moment."

Asked about their experience in the tunnel, he said it has been "very, very tough" but they are all "chipper" and have enough food as well as space, adding that the tunnel is about 16 metres long.

"It's a sort of extreme experience that is very different to anything I've been I've been used to in the past," he said.

Just Stop Oil protestIn April 2022 Just Stop Oil of protesters blocked access to the Titan Truck Park in Grays, Essex, where they claimed to have constructed a secret underground network of tunnels at the Navigator and Grays oil terminals (Just Stop Oil/PA)

"But I feel it's absolutely necessary at this time, with the inactions of the UK Government to tackle the climate emergency and the cost-of-living crisis, for me to be here.

"We're in a desperate situation. You don't go into a tunnel if you're not so for me, I'm fully aware of where we are right now, here in the UK and around the world, and I feel this is the only place I can be right now."

Responding to online criticism of their action, he said: "Well, yeah, first of all, we apologise about the disruption we make and we've made it clear we don't want to be doing this."

But he added that the disruption is "nothing like the floods in Pakistan".

Mr Johnson also said the campaigners have given up their day jobs to focus on the activism because the crisis "is unfolding now" and needs to be addressed "immediately".

"The politicians are saying it but they're not acting and that's the only reason we're here," he said.

Mr Johnson called on the British public and companies to demand that their taxpayers' money is spent on renewables rather than fossil fuels.

In response to Mr Johnson's comments, a Government spokesperson said: "We will not bend to the will of activists who naively want to extinguish North Sea oil and gas production.

"Doing so would put energy security and British jobs at risk, and simply increase foreign imports, while not reducing demand.

"We are committed to a strong North Sea industry as we transition away from fossil fuels over the coming decades, and our recent British Energy Security Strategy sets out a long-term plan to ramp up renewables and nuclear energy.

"While no Government can control global gas prices, we know the pressures people are facing with rising costs.

"This is why we have continually taken action to help households by phasing in GBP37 billion worth of support."

In a statement on the protests, Essex Police chief constable BJ Harrington said: "The cause the protesters wish to highlight - climate change and the need to protect our environment for future generations - is one many of us will recognise and understand.

Climate change is a real concern.

"In my force we are working on the electrification of our fleet and upgrading our buildings, improving insulation, modernising lighting and exploring the use of solar panels to reduce our carbon footprint.

"Even so, concerns about the climate - however real - cannot justify actions that seriously disrupt and endanger the lives of others.

"While my officers are dealing with these protesters, they are diverted from other duties such as the prevention and investigation of burglary, robbery, sexual and violent crime."