The road from fundamental rights to protest to the attempted corporate takeover of British law in a 21st-Century struggle for democracy


Just over four years ago, in late 2013 at the Anti-fracking protests at Barton Moss (BM) in Salford, Greater Manchester, I realised first-hand that our civil and fundamental rights to protest was under threat in the UK. But what was to happen on the 27th July 2017 in a secret High Court hearing in London was way beyond even that, this I will come to later.

Policing of those protests at Barton Moss between November 2013 and May 2014 was so profoundly troubling, only corruption and collusion through an economic system driven by neoliberal ideology could possibly be the reason, it had to be coming straight from the highest ranks of the state.

When that protests memorandum of understanding came out shortly before the end, it confirmed for the first time links between police, industry and local councils, it was evident that the people’s voices would not be allowed to be heard.

This collusion continues across the UK today and it became more evident at a High Court injunction hearing on the 12th September 2017. The court was told that a secret meeting in London on the 10th May 2017 between the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) and Counter-Terrorism and Policing National Operations Centre (CTP-NOC) advised INEOS and its security team Eclipse Strategic Security Services, to apply for an injunction. Eclipse, an oil and gas protection unit, is more used to responding to insurgent threats in the oil fields of Asia. This alarming revelation showed how British campaigners were being treated as insurgents, a truly remarkable situation and one we thought was banished after the inclusion of anti-fracking campaigners in the controversial Prevent strategies in 2015 alongside terrorist organisations.

Social licence

Historically, discussions on the future of a UK shale gas industry focused on the notion of a ‘social license’, a term used at the EU’s Horizon 2020 Shale Gas World Conference, in Brussels in early 2014, a conference I attended personally on behalf of the UK Anti fracking community. At that time, social license was seen as the basis for any legitimacy of the shale gas industry in Europe, including here in the UK. Public acceptance was vital, they said.

But social licence took on a new meaning when the UK Government overturned a decision by Lancashire County Council to refuse Cuadrilla Resources’ plans. The voices of the people, through a democratic system, became irrelevant and social licence became a discourse of neo-liberalism, giving people an illusion of democracy.

It turned out that people in UK towns and villages would have to stand up for themselves and protect their communities from an ideology, driven by neoliberalism, which considers people worthless in favour of multinational corporations, foreign private companies and lobbyists with close links to the government. These actions would have to be by any peaceful means possible, including non-violent direct action in true British spirit. This was and is the only option if people are to establish the true principle of no social license.

Corporate takeover and the illusion of democracy went one step further on the 24th November 2017, one day after a judge further granted an injunction against ‘persons unknown’ to the Swiss petrochemicals company INEOS at the Business High Court in London.

In the name of national security, INEOS – the largest of the shale gas companies – said it was asking the planning inspectorate to intervene in planning applications for two drill sites in the East Midlands because there had been no decisions in reasonable time periods (their words, not mine).

With huge opposition to their plans to industrialise the area, some might think INEOS is avoiding local democracy, as it did when it went acquired an ex-parte injunction against ‘persons unknown’ back in July. The clues, to what might soon become a national security issue, lie later in the company’s statement: “These are nationally important issues being made at a local level”.

If the government fast-tracks these highly controversial plans, we can safely say, we are living in a totalitarian state a recent development which is now under the neoliberal fallacy of consultation.

Has the British media been compromised locally as well as nationally?

After almost seven years, 48% of the UK public neither support nor oppose fracking.

The question I often ask myself is ‘If it is really safe, for people and planet, why aren’t the industry and media overloading the UK population with evidence?’

The conclusion I come to from my analysis links to the biggest media discourses so far. Firstly, from Conservative MP Kevin Hollinrake, who decided to go to Pennsylvania to see for himself the US industry? He gives a very different account to local people in Pennsylvania, and the many countries and states who have put a halt to the process globally because of the industries negative impacts.

In recent months, we have seen how media in the East Midlands is also using framing in their articles (just like the mainstream media), with the approach used by Hollinrake too. Bigger discourses from local media than ever before lie ahead though, this in an attempt to silence the population and brainwash local communities with ‘dangling carrots’. Last summer, INEOS paid for an all expenses trip for local journalists throughout Northern England to Pennsylvania. Here we start to get a better picture of the infiltration by a large Swiss petrochemical company into the very fabric of our local societies and media, in what was inevitably ‘the next oncoming wave of media discourse.

The discourse became much more apparent in June 2016, when approximately 52% of the UK population chose to leave the EU and take back control of the future of the UK, a perfect division for those driving the system  to utilise and give these companies the opportunity to use, the discourse and framing of our time, ‘energy independence’. The most notable discourse used by industry is that of ‘using the energy below our feet to heat our homes’.

It is our job of campaigners to get this evidence out behind a ‘veil of discourse’ in the media but if you look closely at this ‘Gas for feedstock’ versus ‘Gas for homes’ argument, you will see a very different picture. You soon realise the shale gas is certainly not for UK homes, how the industry, media and those driving the corporate neoliberal cogs, like to portray it. For example, twelve months ago when the Scottish parliament decided to end the hopes of the shale gas industry north of the border, three quotes from the Industry were given.

Firstly, Backing Fracking said “Putting the future of the Grangemouth petrochemicals plant in doubt by denying it access to more affordable local feedstocks”. Secondly, Ken Cronin of UKOOG, said “it’s better for the planet to be producing our gas here rather than shipping it in across oceans from elsewhere, especially when Scotland has a petrochemicals industry so ‘reliant’ on natural gas” INEOS said they “see shale gas a potential solution to the decline of North Sea resources needed to provide the base ingredients to make its products”.

The second comment from Ken Cronin of UKOOG when balanced with INEOS’s latest announcement of INEOS shipping Natural Gas to China from the US seems very hypocritical indeed, some might prefer ‘scaremongering PR’. Do we really need to put further pressures on our communities in the name of shale gas to supply feedstock for a petrochemicals plant, to make more plastics when the oceans are already awash with plastics?! This is certainly a ‘tragedy of the commons’ that is generally hidden by the industry but is of equal importance to any debates.

This is where strong environmental discussions are taking place right now, not in those Natural Gas filled dragon ships heading to China in the near future.

Personally, one of the most worrying thoughts of the fracking industry getting a foothold in the UK is something which needs speaking about more. How many people actually look forward and see the future in a societal sense and the possible causal factors related to in-country migration that this industry can cause, that’s if people are able to sell and get out, which is very doubtful.

During the early years of an attempt to establish a UK fracking industry the company with the biggest threat to our communities, environment and democracy, INEOS was back in Switzerland, staying out of any limelight amid growing opposition to this technology. INEOS a leading petrochemicals company had, in fact, moved back to Switzerland in 2010 from the UK to save 350 million in Taxes. Six years later and they were back after huge Corporation Tax breaks.

Northern England, if INEOS and Jim Ratcliffe get their way, will see the industrialisation of the land like not seen in recent times, and with it will come, the breakdown of towns and cities. They have licenses to drill in over 1.2 million acres of land which could rise to 2 million if they acquire further purchases from other prospector companies like Third Energy and Rathlin Energy.

Migration to cities

Overcrowded urbanized areas of Northern Cities including Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield and Leeds et al, could very possibly in the near future, see an influx of even more people, as people protecting their families migrate from the deep countryside in attempt to protect their families from the pollution and change in their peaceful way of life.

When seen through this lens, the industry has the potential to cause a ‘Public Health Emergency’. In a conveyor belt-like migration of people to the City, those at the very bottom already struggling to cope will disconnect from society further, those hanging on to their sanity from many years of ideological austerity will inevitably join them and not only will we have a deepening mental health crisis but we will also have a deepening housing crisis.

The outcome of this migration of people within the UK will cause deepening health inequalities within our society, a truly worrying perspective. One thing we should all be concerned about is these further ‘health inequalities’ which could materialise, regardless of our political allegiances and views. From the Black Report (1980), Acheson Report (1998) through to the Marmot Review (2010) health inequalities is already a crisis, a pressing issue of our time, one that needs no extra burdens. The ‘social determinants of health’ are at the heart of 21st-century health ambitions and the shale industry if given a foothold renders the real possibility of diminishing all possibilities of narrowing inequalities in health and in fact widening them.

Draconian injunction

So now, just over 29 months after the June 2016 EU referendum we have a raft of draconian injunctions throughout England.

On the 23rd November 2017, we failed to overturn the injunction in the High Court, but we mustn’t stop there, too much is at stake.  British laws by foreign companies to block our future could turn out to be ‘profoundly one of the most troubling decisions of our time’. These  injunctions allows for an unprecedented restriction on our fundamental rights, which has forever played an important part in political struggles.

Social and environmentally minded figures at the top of the Green Party (Caroline Lucas, Jonathon Bartley, Keith Taylor and Natalie Bennet) have collectively led the way politically and must be commended for their determined work in opposing this injunction, so far. However, as the Labour Party moves away from the neoliberal direction of the past few decades, we can hope to see more of its members involved with this political and corporate struggles. Yet, citizens, campaigners, activists and guardians of this land need more support from them. We are certainly not seeing enough as we attempt to overturn this injunction or put a halt to these companies’ oppressive invasion. Even some Conservatives are now raising questions but until the right-wing of the party shows its concerns at this attempted Swiss takeover of our law the troubles will continue.

All this attention and exposure of collusion was made possible by determined campaigners for over six years now.

The campaign must be allowed to continue in the same vein, which is why I call on them all to question this judgement, which unless we are successful on Appeal in March 2019 will shut down a functioning society’s aspirations.  These injunctions could be the start of a slippery slope that will be remembered in decades ahead, as a dark time in our country. Even if the Labour Party take office and ban fracking the legacy could linger on long after the shale industry has banished from these shores, by setting in UK law a precedent for other companies to ride roughshod over our way of life and fundamental rights to challenge injustices in a fallacy of a democratic society in an increasingly corporate takeover.  These democratic issues are real and go to the heart of  the biggest troubles of our times.

The injunction itself will be heard at the Court of Appeal on the 5 and 6 March 2018 cannot and will not be left unchallenged; I and Joe Corre will be filing an application for permission to appeal. Like many before who have endured many struggles to earn these rights, including two world wars, we must do the same. The support of everyone concerned with the future and direction of our country can support the case

Joe Boyd BA (Honours) International Studies. MSc Public Health

Anti-Fracking Campaigner.

Admin: Frack Free Liverpool and Sefton.


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