Brian Haw, the man who camped out in Parliament Square for the best part of a decade to protest against UK foreign policy, died yesterday morning. He had been receiving medical treatment in Berlin for lung cancer.
Mr Haw first set up his camp in Parliament Square in June 2001 in protest at the UK’s sanctions against Iraq. Over the next ten years he would find many other areas of UK foreign policy to campaign against, not least the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and would gather many supporters.
It did not take long for the authorities to become irked by his perpetual protest, and complaints from Members of Parliament about the noise he created, the untidiness he introduced to the square, and (somewhat absurdly) the terrorism threat he posed were soon translated into attempts to evict him. Over the next few years, Parliament passed laws outlawing ‘unlicensed protest’, Westminster Council attempted to prosecute him for obstructing the pavement, and the Metropolitan Police conducted a high-profile, high-cost early-hours raid to confiscate his placards. All of these actions failed to stop his campaigning in the square.
Mr Haw’s continued presence in Parliament Square divided opinion. Some applauded his determination to protest as taking a principled stand for free speech in the face of an increasingly authoritarian state. Others objected to the ‘defacement’ of the square caused by the peace camp that sprang up around him. Various celebrity figures weighed in on either side.
More recently, the plans to install a pedestrian crossing to ease access to Parliament Square appeared to provide a mechanism for ultimately evicting Mr Haw and the other co-located peace protesters. There now seems to be little to stand in the way of this.
A press release issued by Mr Haw’s family said that he died painlessly in his sleep, and thanked his friends and supporters for their help.