Keir Starmer has been confronted by a youth climate activist after his party called on the government to ban fossil fuel protests across Britain.
The opposition leader looked uncomfortable when Lauren MacDonald, a 21-year-old Scottish climate activist, asked him: “Why do you think that people like me deserve to go to prison?”
Labour on Monday called for a nationwide injunction banning demonstrations outside oil infrastructure or on roads.
The policy announcement came after activists from Just Stop Oil blockaded depots while calling for an end to new investment in fossil fuels.
In a video of the exchange shared by the Green New Deal Rising group Sir Keir appears visibly flustered and flees the scene without addressing the topic of the injunction.
“I just wanted to ask, whose side are you on when it comes to the climate crisis? Currently, it seems like you’re siding the UK Government,” Ms MacDonald can be heard to ask the Labour leader.
“Currently it seems like you think that young people like me, who are so, so terrified about the future deserve to go to prison?”
When the activist says she is suffering from stress-induced hair loss from worrying about the climate emergency, Sir Keir tells her: “I agree with you the climate crisis is the number one priority.”
But she replies: “Why do you think that people like me deserve to go to prison? You said that the UK Government should should use a UK-wide injunction on protesters.”
The Labour leader replies that the party has pledges “huge” sums to address the climate – but would not discuss Monday’s call for an authoritarian crackdown.
Civil liberties campaign group Liberty was among those to criticise Labour’s call for a ban on demonstrations.
“Both Labour and the government calling for a ban on protest should ring alarm bells,” a spokesperson for the group said this week.
“Stifling dissent and restricting protest only pushes people to new and more urgent ways to make their voices heard. The government and opposition should be engaging with concerns, not banning entire protests.”
After the exchange Ms MacDonald said: “I confronted Keir Starmer today because his actions on climate change simply are not good enough. We are on a trajectory for 3.2ºC of warming by the end of the century – this means extinction.
“In the face of our futures being taken away from us, Mr Starmer is siding with Boris Johnson’s crackdown on climate protests. He is advocating for young people like me, who are kept up at night terrified of the future, to be arrested or worse go to prison for taking action to defend our lives. It’s unthinkable really.” She added that Sir Keir’s response was characterised by “apathy and defensiveness”.
Keir Starmer’s office declined to comment on the episode when approached by The Independent.
Fatima Ibrahim from Green New Deal Rising said: “We feel betrayed by Keir Starmer and the Labour Party for calling for more police powers to prevent young people worried about their future from peacefully protesting.
“At a time when the country is desperate for a different vision of the future, the Labour Party could be calling for a massive shift towards renewables to bring down energy bills and deliver new jobs. Instead, they’ve relegated themselves to government cheerleaders.
“If political leaders think they can betray an entire generation and comfortably get on with their jobs, they are wrong. Young people up and down this country are at a breaking point, and politicians should expect to be more regularly challenged by them on the street, and eventually at the ballot boxes.”
The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) this month warned that greenhouse gas emissions must peak by 2025 to stave off catastrophic global warming.