Extinction Rebellion became embroiled in an internal row on Thursday after it announced that it would launch a major protest against HS2 in the middle of the coronavirus crisis, only to cancel it less than two hours later.
A faction within the group planned for hundreds of members to self-isolate in treehouses along the HS2 route for six weeks, demonstrating against the felling of trees.
But Extinction Rebellion bosses quashed the idea, fearing it would put pressure on emergency services while they deal with coronavirus, but the faction went ahead with organising the treehouse protest and issued a press release.
Less than two hours later, the group was forced to apologise, cancel the announcement and clarify that it had no plans to protest during the Covid-19 epidemic.
It is understood the message was not signed off by the group’s “circle”, which oversees its operations, and a spokesman said neither the action nor the release had been agreed internally.
“We will be looking into how this happened,” he said. “Extinction Rebellion UK does not support any action that puts pressure on strained public resources at this time.”
The treehouse protest was announced on a WhatsApp group by Howard Rees, an Extinction Rebellion activist who was involved in organising the 10-day shutdown of central London in October.
Mr Rees insisted the protest against HS2 had not been cancelled and said it would not cause disruption emergency services. He said there had been a “miscommunication” in the group, and the protest would take place.
An Extinction Rebellion spokesman told The Telegraph the internal row was “embarrassing” but “came from a place of care”.
“People care about the trees that are going to be felled, and people are really worried,” he said. “With coronavirus happening, HS2 appears to be going ahead. How do you protect the trees while also protecting people?”
He added that any treehouse protest that took place would not be the work of Extinction Rebellion.
The organisation has established a “coronavirus team” to encourage members to help with relief efforts in their local communities and promote “regenerative cultures”.