Man on Westminster hunger strike fighting for MPs to get climate briefing

A man has said he is willing to starve himself to death if the energy minister, Greg Hands, does not offer all MPs the same climate crisis briefing that Boris Johnson has described as his “road to Damascus moment”.

For 18 days, Angus Rose, 52, has gone without food. Each morning he goes to Westminster to sit at the gates of parliament on a wooden folding chair, by a blown-up copy of a letter to Hands, in the hope the minister will meet him to talk. So far he has lost 9.5kg (1st 5lb) in weight but Hands has not shown up.

“I have said to him that I will continue not eating until he arranges a briefing where Sir Patrick Vallance will brief parliament and the cabinet and make the recording available to be televised,” said Rose.

“So all of the pressure is on his shoulders. So he can’t escape it. He can’t just kind of continue. He can’t escape that pressure. He can’t deflect it. It’s ever-present.”

Rose has eaten nothing containing calories since 14 March. He allows himself zero-calorie drinks, such as water, coffee and green tea, and is taking vitamin supplements to stave off the worst effects of malnutrition, which can lead to cognitive impairments and heart arrhythmias. He speaks passionately but occasionally falters or becomes confused because lack of food has affected his ability to concentrate.

Hands did not respond to a request for comment. But Rose said he had received a letter in reply from the minister. “He said: ‘I urge you to reconsider,’” Rose said. “So I replied to him and said: ‘Well, thank you very much for being concerned about my health. I pretty much acknowledge that the government has climate change as one of the top priorities, although I don’t recognise many of those priorities being as high as climate change. I believe climate change is the biggest issue.’”

On 28 January 2020, the prime minister was given a briefing led by Vallance on the science of the climate emergency. Johnson, who had disputed climate scientists’ claims in the past, later said it had been his “road to Damascus” moment on climate science. He told reporters government scientists had “run through it all” and that anthropogenic climate change had turned out to be “very hard to dispute”.

Rose’s action is part of a growing trend for activists to put pressure on climate policy through hunger strikes. Last October, around the time of the Cop26 climate summit, five young activists began a hunger strike outside the White House to pressure Joe Biden not to abandon his climate agenda. In December, Emma Smart, from the civil disobedience group Insulate Britain, ended a 26-day prison hunger strike in demand for a meeting with the Conservative MP Richard Drax.

Rose said he had taken the most inspiration from Guillermo Fernandez, a Swiss father who claimed a victory after 39 days of hunger strike when scientists announced they would meet Swiss MPs to discuss climate science.

“His demand was pretty much a demand that I have. So that’s where I got it from. And so it’s really disproportionate: the reasonableness of the demand is totally out of proportion to the level of sacrifice.”

Fernandez had said he was doing it for his children; Rose says he is doing it for his five nephews and niece. The impacts of climate change would become “the worst case of intergenerational injustice inflicted by one human generation upon another”, he said.

“This isn’t a joke. My nephews, my niece, their lives depend on the government to act, to protect, the most important duty to the citizens is to protect them from harm, and even more importantly for children and further generations,” Rose said.

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