LONDON (AP) — Four Greenpeace demonstrators were arrested Thursday after they draped the country estate of British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in black fabric to protest his plan to expand oil and gas drilling in the North Sea.
Video posted by the group showed a crew dressed in bright red jumpsuits, helmets and safety harnesses carrying ladders and climbing onto the roof of the Yorkshire house. They slowly unfurled long black sheets of fabric over the front of the home and held a yellow sign on the roof that read “No New Oil.”
The prime minister was not home because he is vacationing with his family in California. Greenpeace said the group chose to stage the peaceful protest at a time when no one was home at the mansion, and that the activists were trained to ensure no damage was caused to the property.
Sunak announced Monday that Britain will grant hundreds of new oil and gas licenses in the North Sea to gain energy independence. The move was widely criticized by environmental groups that have accused the government of backsliding on its pledge to eliminate net carbon emissions by 2050.
As four Greenpeace members were on the roof of the British leader’s country house, two others stood on the front lawn holding a banner with the words “Rishi Sunak — Oil Profits or Our Future?”
“We desperately need our prime minister to be a climate leader, not a climate arsonist,” said Philip Evans of Greenpeace. “Just as wildfires and floods wreck homes and lives around the world, Sunak is committing to a massive expansion of oil and gas drilling.”
U.N. scientists and environmental groups have called on global leaders to accelerate the transition away from fossil fuels after a summer of record high temperatures, drought and floods linked to man-made climate change. Burning oil and gas to power vehicles, factories and electricity generating stations releases huge amounts of carbon dioxide, the main driver of global warming.
A statement from Sunak’s office defended the prime minister’s climate policies.
“We make no apology for taking the right approach to ensure our energy security, using the resources we have here at home so we are never reliant on aggressors like (Russian President Vladimir) Putin for our energy,” the statement said.
The protest is one of dozens of high-profile demonstrations in the U.K. and across Europe by groups that have disrupted sporting events, caused massive traffic jams and performed shocking stunts to draw attention to the climate crisis and try to stop production of fossil fuels.
Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden said protesters should “stop the stupid stunts.”
A former deputy chief constable in North Yorkshire called for an investigation into how the group was able to get to the prime minister’s house.
Peter Walker, who retired from the force in 2003, told LBC radio that he was “absolutely astonished” by the “major breach of security.”
“If free access is being granted to that property, people who wanted to do much more serious things would be able to leave devices or booby traps or something like that,” he said. “This is a major failing, and it grieves me to say it because it’s my old police force that has failed.”