The Education Secretary has said anti-vaccine protesters should not be going “anywhere near” teachers or pupils, but expressed reservations about exclusion zones outside schools.
Speaking to LBC on Monday morning, Nadhim Zahawi said the protests targeting schools were “abhorrent” and would “not be tolerated”.
He said: “I have spoken to the Home Secretary about this and she has reassured me that the police have all the resources they need to deal with this.
“The anti-vaxx protesters should not be going anywhere near a school or a pupil or a parent or a teacher. If they do, the police will and can take action against them.
“Local government, of course, are also working with schools … if anybody feels threatened by these anti-vaxx protesters, they should report them and they will be arrested.”
Mr Zahawi, however, implied he was not keen to introduce exclusion zones at school gates.
He said local government “can have buffer zones” outside schools and he would support those “if they deem it necessary”.
However, on exclusion zones generally, he said: “I’d rather have the police deal with it.”
“The best way to deal with the anti-vaxx protesters, which is the way I have dealt with them since I became vaccines minister, is to … always make sure that we deliver the evidence and the data and be positive about vaccines,” he said.
“The moment you engage on their terms you give them that sort of space to operate and cut through. I [would] much rather marginalise them.”
Asked if he wanted anti-vaxx protesters arrested, rather than exclusion zones, he said: “Absolutely. Because the moment you start giving them the space to think that they are somehow being prohibited…
“[Priti Patel] has promised me that the police have got all the resources they need to be able to deal with [them].”
He added that if anti-vaxx protesters were to threaten teachers, parents or pupils, “absolutely they should be arrested”.
Labour has previously called for councils to be able to use exclusion orders to prevent harassment of staff and pupils by anti-vaxxers outside schools.
The party’s leader Sir Keir Starmer said it was “sickening” that those against vaccinations were demonstrating at school gates.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid has also lashed out at “idiots” who mount anti-vaxx protests outside schools and suggested exclusion zones were an option to protect children at a local level.
Public spaces protection orders (PSPOs) can be used to disperse people from a public area and have previously been used to move on protesters outside abortion clinics, or to allow police to confiscate alcohol in certain spaces.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said the actions of some protesters were “utterly abhorrent”.
The spokesman added: “Spreading lies and disinformation and targeting them towards children, their parents and teachers is an appalling thing to do, it’s irresponsible, it’s dangerous and it costs lives.
“We have public spaces protection orders in place which local authorities can use if a protest is persistent, unreasonable or harming the quality of life of those in the local area.
“The police have the Government’s full backing to use their powers to deal with these protests.”