On Saturday afternoon over 30 people joined with No Borders South Wales outside Newport Passport Office to protest against the introduction of ID cards for non-EU foreign nationals resident in the UK from this November.

Thousands of copies of our new leaflet “Big Brother is coming“, produced especially for the event, were distributed to members of the public. The leaflet lays out the government timetable for rolling out the scheme and makes the point that these new ID cards are not only a repressive measure against migrants, they are the first shot in an attack against everyone’s freedom. The vast majority of passers by who took the time out to speak with people on the demonstration were very supportive of our campaign and were adamant that they would not accept an ID card themselves.

A dozen police were waiting by the Passport office at 2pm when people arrived. The senior officer informed people that they were willing to ‘facilitate’ the protest providing only two people were stood outside the entrance to the passport office and everyone else stood on the other side of the road. The police were politely but firmly told that that was both unreasonable and unacceptable. The officer then said he would go inside the office and then return to implement “another course of action”. Unsurprisingly, this other course of action was to completely abandon his original demand and only ask us not to block the entrance, which we had already told him we had no intention of doing.

Though in this case the police soon realised we were not going to be bullied around and the protest was able to pass off without too much of their interference, it is a concern that less experienced people wishing to exercise their legal right to protest are intimidated into being sidelined into designated “protest zones”. Across the UK police forces regularly demand that protest organisers contact them beforehand, despite the fact we all have the right to gather and protest without asking for permission. Under the guise of “minimising disruption” and even protecting the protest from disgruntled members of the public(?!?), it is increasingly common for police to view an effectively policed protest as one which as few people as possible are aware is happening. A good example of this was the march against the military academy in Cardiff which the police forced out of sight down back-streets, earlier this year.

Four officers from Gwent Police’s ‘Evidence Gathering Team’ filmed participants at the demonstration constantly, both from a distance and at close range. They also frequently checked the inside of their hats where we believe they kept their ‘spotter cards’ which identify known activists. These four officers then followed a number of the demonstrators to a local pub where they stood outside patiently in the rain, waiting for them to come out and then followed them again, over the River Usk to the legendary TJs where Smash EDO were showing a film to build support for their upcoming protest before day two of No Border Fest. Their actions are clearly politically motivated. As one passer by noted:

“I didn’t know there were so many police in Newport”

The reaction of the NO2ID campaign to the introduction of these ID cards has been underwhelming to say the least. And has largely been limited to the press release quoted in a previous post and this extract from a longer comment on their website:

“Resistance to the database state is growing, but that has not discouraged Whitehall. It seems more determined than ever to sneak round obstacles using misdirection and to find new, softer, targets…

Latest of those soft targets are overseas students, and people seeking to settle in the UK with British husbands and wives. Those, people with strong reasons not to make a fuss, are the ones to be targeted for the new biometric card scheme that will act as a test bed for the ID scheme. Jacqui Smith’s launch of “ID cards for foreigners” was a shameless piece of spin to try to associate the unpopular ID scheme with the popular policy of restricting immigration.

There’s no real link. And it is unclear how much technology there is yet. But immigration law already gives the Home Office some of the powers it would like to exert over everyone, and so it has a free hand to try out, on a few selected foreign residents, the processes it eventually intends to use for everyone else.”

The discussion about this protest on the NO2ID forum certainly seems to reveal real naivety amongst at least some sections of NO2ID supporters, with one poster commenting that

“They aren’t ID cards for foreigners. They are biometric residence and work permits.

It comes to something when a supposed opponent of the database state is inventing meaningless spin for the government as they are about to introduce the first ID cards! It is a shame that this new move by the home office is not recognised by more anti-ID activists for being what the government is very open about. This unwillingness to defend the rights of migrants endangers the struggle for everyone’s liberty. Previously Defy ID has been a vehicle for opposition to ID cards from a libertarian perspective, but given the manner in which the government is using a a greater repression of migrants as a testing ground for this scheme No Borders must intervene.

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