May: I’ll rip up human rights laws that impede new terror legislation
PM says she is looking at making it easier to deport foreign suspects as she seeks to gain control of security agenda before election
Theresa May has declared she is prepared to rip up human rights laws to impose new restrictions on terror suspects, as she sought to gain control over the security agenda just 36 hours before the polls open.
The prime minister said she was looking at how to make it easier to deport foreign terror suspects and how to increase controls on extremists where it is thought they present a threat but there is not enough evidence to prosecute them.
The last-ditch intervention comes after days of pressure on May over the policing cuts and questions over intelligence failures, following terror attacks on London Bridge, Manchester and Westminster.
She said: “But I can tell you a few of the things I mean by that: I mean longer prison sentences for people convicted of terrorist offences. I mean making it easier for the authorities to deport foreign terror suspects to their own countries.
“And I mean doing more to restrict the freedom and the movements of terrorist suspects when we have enough evidence to know they present a threat, but not enough evidence to prosecute them in full in court.
“And if human rights laws stop us from doing it, we will change those laws so we can do it.”
The proposed measures appear to be an attempt at strengthening terrorism prevention and investigation measures (Tpims) rather than a complete return to Labour’s control orders, which were repeatedly struck down by the courts and then scrapped by May in 2010 when she was home secretary.
They could involve further curfews, restrictions on association with other known extremists, controls on where they can travel and limits on access to communication devices.
She could even increase the period for which terror suspects can be held without trial, currently 14 days – a move that provoked clashes with civil liberties campaigners when Tony Blair attempted it after the 7 July 2005 attacks.
May told the Sun she would consult the intelligence agencies about what they think is needed: “When we reduced it to 14 days, we actually allowed for legislation to enable it to be at 28 days. We said there may be circumstances where it is necessary to do this. I will listen to what they think is necessary for us to do.”
The Conservatives have promised not to withdraw from the European convention on human rights during the next parliament but they could begin to try to replace or amend parts of the Human Rights Act after the UK leaves the EU.
It is possible May’s plans could involve seeking further derogations from the ECHR. This is the way the government is seeking to prevent human rights claims against soldiers in future military situations.
Earlier in the day, the prime minister tried to return her election campaign to the issues of Brexit and her leadership, as the Tories’ poll lead over Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour remained narrow.
But she continued to face a barrage of questions over the impact of cuts to policing. Sadiq Khan, the Labour mayor of London, said planned cuts of 10-40% in London over the next four years would make it “harder to foil terrorist attacks on our city”.
May was then repeatedly challenged about how the Home Office, police and intelligence services dealt with the information relating to the attackers, after Boris Johnson, her foreign secretary, said MI5 had questions to answer. One of the attackers, Khuram Butt, 27, had been reported to the anti-terror hotline in 2015 and a third attacker, Youssef Zaghba, 22, had been detained by Italian authorities in 2016.
Zaghba, named by police for the first time yesterday, was put on an international terrorism database for an attempt to travel to Syria in March 2016 which was thwarted after he allegedly told officials at Bologna: “I am going to be a terrorist.” But this does not seem to have been spotted by UK intelligence agencies.
His mother, Valeria Collina, told the Italian news magazine L’Espresso that her son was “friends” with the two other men and monitored by Italian officials after his failed journey to Syria.
May said she “absolutely recognised people’s concerns” and added that she expected the intelligence agencies to launch a review of the London Bridge attack.
“We need to look at how the terror threat is evolving, the way that terrorism is breeding terrorism and the increased tempo of attacks. We have had three horrific attacks and we have foiled five others. The tempo is there in a way we haven’t seen before,” she said.
“We will look at how the processes were followed, what they did. They will want to be looking at that because they will want to learn lessons for the future, if there are those lessons to be learned.”
She added: “The police and security service have done a good job in foiling a number of plots – just five in the last three months, and a significant number in the last few years as well.”
May declined to say whether Zaghba had been monitored or subject to an exclusion order when he returned to the UK after being stopped in Italy, and declined an opportunity to apologise for any failures by the intelligence agencies.
Despite having previously said she believed the police and security services had the resources they needed to deal with terrorism, she went on to announce details of a proposed crackdown on terrorism at a rally of Conservative activists in Slough.
Her remarks suggested that if she is re-elected her government could look to step up the use of orders that restrict the movement of terror suspects.
There are currently only seven terror suspects considered enough of a threat to be given Tpims, while there are about 23,000 people considered to have been subjects of interest by the security services. Tpims, which expire after two years, can include overnight curfews of up to 10 hours, electronic tagging, reporting regularly to the police, exclusion from certain zones, enforced relocation and some limitations on use of a mobile phone and the internet.
Elements of the orders could be strengthened but any attempt to return to the 18-hour-a-day curfews imposed by control orders would be likely to end up in the courts.
May’s proposals follow criticism from Labour and other parties about her cuts to policing and approach to tackling terrorism in the Home Office, which she led for six years. Corbyn accused the prime minister on Sunday night of trying to “protect the public on the cheap” by implementing 20,000 police cuts.
The prime minister has also been accused of politicising her response to the London Bridge terror attack when she addressed the nation outside Downing Street on Sunday. She declared “enough is enough” as she announced plans to
introduce new anti-terror laws, without going into details about what
she would do.
introduce new anti-terror laws, without going into details about what
she would do.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said: “You can’t keep our country safe on the cheap. Theresa May is refusing to put in the resources that are needed. She has slashed funding for the police, our courts system and border force.
“I will do everything necessary and effective to keep our people safe. We will always keep the law under review, but don’t believe would-be terrorists and suicide bombers will be deterred by longer sentences or restricting our rights at home.
“The right response to the recent attacks is to halt the Conservative cuts and invest in our police and security services and protect our democratic values, including the Human Rights Act.
“It is disgraceful that the Conservative government is suppressing its own report into terrorist funding. We will not shy away from the difficult conversations about who funds and supports terrorism.”
Tim Farron, the Lib Dem leader, said May was only “posturing about being tough on terror”. He added: “In her years as home secretary she was willing to offer up the police for cut after cut. We have been here before – a kind of nuclear arms race in terror laws might give the appearance of action, but what the security services lack is not more power, but more resources. And responsibility for that lies squarely with Theresa May.”
The London Bridge attack on Saturday night left seven people dead, and 15 remain in hospital in critical condition. Raids and searches of properties in east London continue, but 12 others arrested as part of inquiries into whether anyone else helped the attackers have been released without charge.