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Cameron’s anti-terror statement sets out autumn battles

1 September 2014

5:07 PM

1 September 2014

5:07 PM

So, after the horsetrading of the past few days, the Conservatives appear to have won their battle to add relocation powers to the terrorism prevention and investigation measures. In his statement in the Commons this afternoon, David Cameron said:

‘We will introduce new powers to add to our existing terrorism prevention and investigation measures, including stronger locational constraints on suspects under TPIMs either through enhanced use of exclusion zones or through relocation powers.’

The Prime Minister also confirmed:

  • Police will gain the power to seize passports at the border temporarily so that they can investigate an individual. This power will include safeguards and oversight arrangements.
  • The government will start preparing legislation that it can introduce in case an ongoing legal challenge to the royal prerogative powers allowing the Home Office to seize passports succeeds. That primary legislation would be introduced immediately if necessary.
  • Ministers will also draft legislation giving the authorities powers to stop British nationals who have travelled abroad to join jihad from returning to the UK. Existing powers do not apply to those who are solely British nationals. Cameron slapped down suggestions from Boris Johnson and others that the government should criminalise travel to certain countries. But he said a ‘targeted discretionary power to allow us to exclude British nationals’ would redeveloped with agencies and on a cross-party basis.
  • Airlines will have to give the government details of passenger list and comply with security screening demands or their flights will not be able to land.

Ed Miliband was careful to say his party would give its ‘full support’ to the government if its approach was one based on ‘genuine multilateralism’.

But Labour does have a political point to deploy here, because those relocation powers were in the control orders that the Coalition replaced with TPIMs. So the Labour leader was able to say ‘relocation was indeed a central part of control orders and it was a mistake to get rid of them in the first place’. So Ed Miliband may be happy to work with the government on improving anti-terror measures, but he clearly intends to continue with its authoritarian arms race at the same time.

He also asked for more details on the targeted discretionary powers to exclude British nationals attempting to return to the UK, but none were forthcoming. It seems that these measures might be the Is and Ts that need dotting and crossing after the talks between the Coalition parties.

It’s also worth noting that the deadline for emergency motions at Liberal Democrat conference has not yet passed. Chances are that one group or another within the party will table a motion on the relocation powers, although Lib Dem sources are insisting that Nick Clegg has not rolled over on these powers and that they have strong limits. Julian Huppert argues that as exclusion measures are already in law, the Lib Dems do not object to them, but they will to further relocation powers.

And once the details emerge on those targeted discretionary measures barring British nationals from returning to the UK – which Dominic Grieve and Sir Edward Garnier have warned may contravene international law and common law (Grieve told the Chamber that bringing these people to justice rather than barring them was the most important thing, Cameron told Grieve that the most important thing was to address any gaps in the armoury as identified by the intelligence services) – the chances are that there will be a Lib Dem revolt on this policy at autumn conference, too.

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