The prime minister’s father, Stanley Johnson, has told a crowd at Extinction Rebellion’s London demonstrations that he backs their methods and is proud to call himself an “uncooperative crusty”.
Johnson was responding to a question about comments made by his son, Boris, who on Monday called environmental protesters occupying sites across Westminster “uncooperative crusties” in “heaving hemp bivouacs”.
Speaking on a panel from a stage set up by protesters in Trafalgar Square, Johnson said: “On the point of non-cooperative crusties, I wear that badge with pride.
“It’s one of the nicest things that has been said about me for a long time. A non-cooperative crusty, absolutely superb – do they taste good? That’s my thought, I think they do.”
He defended his son’s choice of words as an attempt to “get the point across” about being late for a book launch.
Johnson appeared on a panel of political figures, including Siobhan Benita, the Liberal Democrat candidate for mayor, Skeena Rathor, a Labour councillor from Stroud, and Rupert Read, a Green party activist and Extinction Rebellion spokesman, addressing the question: “Can traditional politics rise to the challenge of the climate and ecological emergency?”
Most of those speaking suggested the political system required major modifications to answer environmental problems. But Johnson suggested meaningful change could be achieved only through traditional party politics – with a little prodding from non-violent protest movements such as Extinction Rebellion.
“Can you use the present system? Is it good? Well, I tell you it is good, because it’s the only one we’ve got and we have to use this system,” he said.
“But this is the point: what really influences politicians is the sense that out there in the streets, out there in the post offices, out there in the great wide world, there is a great mass of people who approve of what they want.
“I would say you have exactly the right things in mind here. I would say, for example, your target of bringing the net-zero carbon emission date down from 2050 to 2025 – fine, go for it; it is doable.”
Johnson suggested environmental protesters had Margaret Thatcher to thank for beginning moves to tackle pollution. He pointed out that historically, the UK had the second-highest cumulative emissions of any country, behind the US.
“So we do have a responsibility here, we can deliver on that responsibility, and I do congratulate you all for coming. Don’t get stuck with glue somewhere you don’t want to get stuck. I don’t promise to do anything illegal … I mean, I can’t. Your force comes from the fact that you are wedded to peaceful protest and you are not going to break the law,” he said.
As Johnson spoke, there were arrests nearby as police blocked a procession of nursing mothers from marching on Downing Street. Parents and their children had earlier gathered by the Queen Elizabeth II centre before marching. They staged a sit-down protest and “mass nurse-in” on Whitehall after being stopped from reaching their intended destination.
Lorna Greenwood, from Lewisham, south-east London, who helped orchestrate the protest, said: “We are bringing our babies to the heart of government to say these are the lives that are going to be most at risk from the climate crisis.
“Babies have already died all over the world, are dying and continue to die, and we’re begging for their lives and futures.”