An Extinction Rebellion demonstrator dressed up as Boris Johnson has been arrested more than three hours after he climbed up the scaffolding around the base of Big Ben.
The man, named by the environmental protest group as 43-year-old tree surgeon Ben Atkinson, clambered up wearing a costume and blonde wig mimicking the prime minister at around 3.30pm.
He carried out a “free solo climb” of the Queen Elizabeth Tower to “highlight government inaction on the climate and ecological emergency” – and was willing to stay up until his demand to speak to Mr Johnson was met.
Speaking on the phone from the scaffolding, Mr Atkinson told Sky News: “I don’t think Boris is doing his job properly – he needs to get past Brexit and start thinking about the sixth mass extinction event that’s happening as we speak.
“It’s not as dramatic and not happening as quickly, but it’s a lot more important.”
Crowds gathered below to watch the dangerous stunt, with Mr Atkinson having unfurled a rainbow-coloured flag adorned with the Extinction Rebellion logo and the words: “No pride on a dead planet.”
Another sign draped from the tower reads: “Citizens Assembly.”
One of the many demands the group has made is for the government to create a citizens’ assembly “on climate and ecological justice”, which it says politicians should be led by when it comes to environmental issues.
It has said members would be randomly selected from across the country, similar to jury service, to discuss and make recommendations on how to respond to the climate emergency.
Who are Extinction Rebellion and why are they encouraging ‘civil disobedience’?
Mr Atkinson was seen waving to people on the ground, who cheered him on.
He appeared to be making his way down at around 6pm after more than two hours on the scaffolding, but then started going back up again.
Police eventually got him down using a lift just before 7pm.
Metropolitan Police tweeted: “Police were called at 15:33hrs on Friday, 18 October to reports of a man climbing up scaffolding surrounding Big Ben. Officers from the Met’s rope team were on scene.
“At approx. 18:45hrs the man, aged in his 40s, was arrested under Section 128 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 – trespass on a protected site. He has been taken into custody.”
Mr Atkinson had told Sky News he was not scared of heights after spending his childhood climbing trees – and said a lack of security made it easy for him to climb up the scaffolding.
“Attention is a currency and the attention is on all the wrong things right now,” he added.
“This is trying to draw the attention to the important things of our time.”
Mr Atkinson also posted on Facebook from the scaffolding, repeating his demands and featuring some selfies.
His post included a shout-out to Greta Thunberg, the teenage climate activist who inspired millions of people around the world to take part in a global climate strike last month.
An #ExtinctionRebllion activist, named by the protest group as tree surgeon Ben Atkinson, has 'free-climbed' the base of Big Ben.
He is reportedly wearing a costume and a blonde wig mimicking the PM Boris Johnson.
— Sky News (@SkyNews) October 18, 2019
Metropolitan Police closed the entrance to Westminster Tube station after being called to the scene of the stunt, which came on the penultimate day of a fortnight of protests across London.
Officers have arrested more than 1,750 people so far and more are likely before the demonstrations come to a conclusion over the weekend.
Activists have spent Friday bringing traffic to a standstill at Oxford Circus in the West End, and hundreds have marched through Westminster in defiance of a police ban enforced earlier this week.
Steve Coogan became the latest celebrity to support the cause, taking part in the walk to Whitehall on Friday.
While others were protesting during the morning, Mr Atkinson was at City of London Magistrates Court.
He made his way to Big Ben after charge of obstructing a constable and a charge of being a public assembly participant failing to comply with a condition were dropped.
While there were more arrests throughout Friday, none of the action came close to being met with the same anger directed towards a controversial stunt on the London Underground on Thursday, when angry commuters confronted protesters who climbed on top of trains at Canning Town station.
Extinction Rebellion apologised for the disruption caused but said the incident should not create “unnecessary division” and have continued their protests in other parts of the capital.