As Julian Glover notes, Jack Straw let the cat out of the bag. ‘Never, ever, downplay the possible
consequences,’ he says. The coverage of the recent bomb plot has largely ignored that it was foiled. That, by any definition, is a success, a vindication of our security services. Independent
inspector Lord Carlile is right that improvements can be made to the bomb detection apparatus in airports and targeting security at the source of
a threat – i.e. packages from the Yemen rather than package holidays.
The previous government would have used this plot to introduce another wave of invasive legislation – never, ever, downplay the possible consequences to justify I.D. cards, deeper control
orders and further suspension of Habeas Corpus.
The coalition agreement is plain on these matters:
‘We will be strong in defence of freedom. The Government believes that the British state has become too authoritarian, and that over the past decade it has abused and eroded fundamental
human freedoms and historic civil liberties. We need to restore the rights of individuals in the face of encroaching state power, in keeping with Britain’s tradition of freedom and
We will implement a full programme of measures to reverse the substantial erosion of civil liberties and roll back state intrusion.’
So far, COBRA has recommended that freight from the Yemen be suspended and subject to tighter scrutiny in future, which seems reasonable. But the government faces an internal battle over control orders, and no doubt other tensions lie beyond the horizon.
The responsibilities of office are grave, but the coalition should not baulk from its ambition to dispel authoritarianism. This plot originated abroad. It would be counter-productive to antagonise
the domestic strain of Islamist with alarmist rhetoric or yet more draconian measures.
UPDATE: Theresa May has just addressed the House. She was calm and there was, understandably, consensus across the House about the need for a measured response to the specific
Yemeni threat. May made two important announcements. First, nothing is being ruled out, including ethnic screening at passenger airports and further restrictions will be made on what passengers can
carry – printer toner cartridges will be banned, for example. Second, unaccompanied air freight from Somalia and the Yemen, seen as the ‘soft-underbelly’ of our security arrangements by some, will
be suspended forthwith.