Priti Patel, the home secretary, condemned the clashes in Bristol has “thuggery and disorder” and said protecting the police was the government’s top priority — though not, she added, of some members of the opposition.
“We have been clear that to save lives and fight this pandemic, people must not currently hold large gatherings,” she said in a statement to Parliament. “Too many this weekend selfishly decided that this did not apply to them.”
Further raising the political temperature, the policing bill is moving through Parliament at the same moment as the government’s renewal of its coronavirus regulations, which also drew fire from the libertarian right.
“The Coronavirus Act contains some of the most draconian detention powers in modern British legal history,” said Mark Harper, who chairs the Covid Recovery Group, a caucus of Conservative lawmakers critical of the lockdown rules.
While many say the debate on the role of the police in Britain is overdue, some sympathize with the plight of the officers. They are caught between politicians and the public, with a nebulous constitutional status and a shifting set of rules to enforce, particularly during a public health emergency.
“It’s not the fault of the police that the coronavirus regulations are in part necessarily draconian and in parts unnecessarily draconian,” said Shami Chakrabarti, an expert in civil liberties and a Labour Party politician.
The bigger problem, she said, is that Britain tends to conduct debates about the role of the police after wrenching episodes like a police shooting, the killing of Ms. Everard or the violent clashes in Bristol. This inflames public opinion in one direction or the other, she says, but can get in the way of a thoughtful debate.