Activists have descended on Hyde Park in central London to protest the wearing of face coverings


A woman holds a sign and wears a mask as she protests in Hyde Park in central London today. She was one of hundreds of demonstrators to take part in the event - PA image


Hundreds of activists have descended on Hyde Park in central London to protest the wearing of face coverings, which will become compulsory in shops and supermarkets from Thursday.

Demonstrators raised signs reading 'I will not be masked, tested, tracked' and 'no mask' as they gathered for the Keep Britain Free march from 1pm.

The movement was founded by Simon Dolan, an aviation tycoon worth around £200million, who earlier this month lost a High Court bid to overturn the government's lockdown rules.

Launching the movement on July 6, the Essex-born entrepreneur said: 'I believe in freedom of choice for all and the protection of personal liberties. The Government’s actions are crippling the economy, denying children education, and trampling over human rights.'

image PA
                               

One man wore a plague doctor costume, another had a mask with the front ripped out and one donned a vest saying: 'Save human rights. No to 5G. No to vaccinations.'

The protest was to counter the government announcement that masks must be worn in shops from July 24, which organisers branded a 'liberty-sapping regulation'.

The march, which started in Speaker's Corner and moved to Marble Arch, also looked to repel 'the erosion of freedoms in the UK' brought in during lockdown.

Two months after attending a similar protest in Hyde Park, Piers Corbyn, brother of former Labour leader Jeremy, travelled to a demonstration in Nottingham today.

It comes as the UK government toughened its stance on the wearing of face coverings in public places.

Passengers have had to use them on public transport since June 15 and they will be made compulsory in shops and supermarkets in England from July 24.

Rule breakers will be hit with a £100 which can be reduced to £50 if paid within a fortnight.

Keep Britain Free's website said the new rules for shops 'was the last straw, following 16 weeks of liberty-sapping regulations and laws imposed during lockdown'.

Its founder lost his High Court bid to reverse lockdown measures earlier this month, but is thought planning an appeal.

Mr Dolan, who according to the Sunday Times Rich List is worth £200million, claimed the rules are costing the economy £2.5billion each day and were beyond the Government's powers.

The tycoon, who owns London-based charter airline Jota Aviation, claimed the measures were a 'disproportionate breach of fundamental rights and freedoms' protected by the European Convention on Human Rights.

Today's gathering, which appeared not to observe social distancing and was identified by its red balloons, heard from a number of speakers including journalist James Delingpole, psychotherapist and organiser Leah Butler-Smith, and lawyer Clare Will Harrison.

They were told how any rule to impose mandatory mask wearing in offices and other workplaces was 'illogical and irrational given where we now are. Masks will not help'.

Ms Butler-Smith told Sky News: 'It is just the fact that people are being told they have no choice about wearing a mask.

'Because the Government started out saying ''there is absolutely no need for a mask'', and many other important scientists have reportedly said the same, it did not make any sense why they suddenly said it was going to be mandated.

'If the Government really wants to protect the public and give them more confidence then they should stop trying to use the coercion strategy or to make people scared.'

The group's website adds: 'They will starve the battered retail sector of the oxygen that is needed to claw its way back to something like a healthy position.

'Moreover, it is a further barrier to people getting back to a normal life.

'It is not just about masks. It is about your rights, your freedoms and your way of life, all of which has been changed to your detriment by this Government.

'So we urge you to join Keep Britain Free on for the peaceful demonstration to demand restoration of freedom and liberties.'

Piers Corbyn was seen at a separate protest in Nottingham earlier today, holding a sign that claimed Covid-19 was a 'hoax to destroy jobs, the economy and control you'.

Mr Corbyn was one of 19 people to be arrested in Hyde Park back in May after arriving with a megaphone and claiming the pandemic and 5G were linked.

Last week PM Boris Johnson was accused of sending mixed messages after saying face coverings were not necessary in takeaways, hours after Matt Hancock suggested the opposite.

And Michael Gove, who dismissed the idea of making face coverings compulsory in shops last weekend, said it was best to 'trust' the public to make a personal decision.

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster faced further criticism for emerging without one from a Pret in London on Tuesday.

In contrast Cabinet colleagues Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak were pictured protecting themselves at the same store.

Mr Johnson was also seen wearing one earlier in the week, hinting at a clear blanket rule for all on the high street.

Health Secretary Mr Hancock, who insisted coverings will be required in venues like Pret when people buy things to go.

However those eating inside the sandwich chain would not need to wear a mask.

He suggested the crucial point was people needed to wear masks if they were not receiving table service and claimed ordering at the bar is not permitted at pubs - despite official guidance saying it is.

But within hours Downing Street added to the bafflement by indicating cafes and eateries will not be included in the law, as the system will only apply in 'shops and supermarkets' in England.

The response sparked anger from Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, who tweeted: 'This is frankly ridiculous. The virus doesn't know if you're in a take-away or a supermarket.
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