Published: Sunday 31st August 2014 by The News Editor
The UK’s defences against jihadis from Britain and across western Europe need to be stiffened up, a senior Cabinet minister has insisted as David Cameron prepared to set out new counter-terrorism measures.
Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said the country faced “very real threats” but denied that the Government’s plans to prevent would-be jihadis from travelling to Iraq and Syria and keep out returning Britons considered a risk were a “knee-jerk response”.
The changes will be announced by the Prime Minister in a Commons statement tomorrow, after a weekend of discussions with the Liberal Democrats about the details of the package.
It is understood the measures under consideration would make it easier to remove people’s passports through temporary seizure powers at the border in order to prevent them travelling to the Middle East trouble zones.
Officials are also looking at the prospect of a “temporary bar” on British citizens suspected of terrorist activity abroad returning, a measure which would stop short of stripping them of citizenship and rendering them stateless.
The package could also include beefed-up powers under the t errorism prevention and investigation measures (Tpims) regime.
There have been calls, including from the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation David Anderson, for the ability to impose “internal exile” on suspects, a key part of the old control orders regime, to be restored.
Former Liberal Democrat leader Lord Ashdown hit out at the Tory response to the terror threat level being raised from “substantial” to “severe”, claiming ministers including Mr Cameron had set out to frighten people in an effort to secure support for new powers.
But Mr Fallon told the Murnaghan programme on Sky News: “These are very real threats. We have had Tube trains blown up, London buses, Glasgow Airport attacked, a soldier murdered in broad daylight.
“These are very real threats we are dealing with.
“This isn’t any kind of knee-jerk response. The Prime Minister made clear on Friday we need to be calm and measured about the way that we do this.
“But when we look at our current instruments, our armoury of things or how we deal with these threats, there are some gaps.
“We’ve had a number of young men going off to fight in Syria, a number of them slipping back home again.
“We need to make sure that, where we can, we plug those existing gaps and the Prime Minister is going to go into more details about that to Parliament tomorrow.”
Several hundred British nationals are estimated to have travelled to Iraq and Syria to join the Islamic State (IS) uprising, and other western European countries have also been a source of foreign fighters.
Mr Fallon said the risk posed by returning jihadis from across Europe underlined the need for international action.
“I think this is the point.” he said. “This is now a threat to western Europe generally. This is going on on our doorstep and this does involve us, because these are fighters who can return from Syria and Iraq to western Europe.
“We are all involved in this, this is why we have to do it on a co-ordinated European level.
“We have the Nato summit in Wales taking place later this week and we have to do this collectively, it’s not just for one country on its own.”
Indicating that changes would be made to Tpims, Mr Fallon said the main problem with the previous control orders regime was that it ran into trouble with judges, rather than Lib Dem opposition to the measures.
He said: “The major problem with control orders has been the courts, actually, it hasn’t been the Liberal Democrats, it’s been the courts wanting to make sure people aren’t being detained unnecessarily if they are not actually being charged.
“But we are now looking at all these things. We have to stiffen up our defences now, we have to take this threat seriously.”
He said there were “people who we know want to do this country harm, we know want to carry out attacks on members of our armed forces or on shopping centres or whatever it is” and ” we need to do more to stop them”.
Labour former minister Hazel Blears, who sits on the Intelligence and Security Committee, called for the return of some of the powers available under control orders.
She told Murnaghan: ” Many of these extremists are based in London. So it was possible under control orders to relocate somebody to Ipswich or to Norwich.
“That meant both the police could keep a better eye on them but also they weren’t part of that organisation that was plotting against us. I think that was a really useful power.
“When the legislation went through Parliament I almost pleaded with the Home Secretary to keep that power. So if the Prime Minister’s going to bring that back, I think it’s a very good thing.”
She added: ” If the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister have second thoughts, and Nick Clegg decides to get off this high horse that he is on and do something practical to protect the British people, then this is something that I think would help.”
Lord Ashdown, writing in The Observer, said politicians should not act as “cheerleaders” for the demands of the intelligence and security services. And he warned that the Prime Minister’s rhetoric risked alienating moderate Muslims.
He said the threat of terrorism had been faced before “effectively, without panic and without a whole new range of executive powers that could endanger our liberties”.
Any changes must be ” evidence based, careful of our liberties and sensitive to the need to keep moderate Islam on our side”, Lord Ashdown said.
The peer criticised the Prime Minister’s rhetoric about the struggle against Islamist extremism: “He recently told us that this fight was about defending ‘Western values’. I cannot think of any phrase, short of those used by George Bush during the Iraq war, which more damages our ability to win this battle.”
Published: Sunday 31st August 2014 by The News Editor