Woolwich terror attack: Cameron and Miliband respond

"The terrorists never win because they cannot defeat the values we hold dear," says Cameron after the beheading of a British soldier in Woolwich.

David Cameron and Ed Miliband have now both responded to the suspected terrorist attack in Woolwich, which saw a British soldier beheaded by two men at 2:20pm this afternoon. The two suspects, one of whom declared in a grim video, "The only reasons we have done this is because Muslims are dying every day", were shot by police and are receiving emergency treatment in hospital. The full statement from the suspect with the bloodied machete was:

We swear by Almighty Allah we will never stop fighting you. The only reasons we have done this is because Muslims are dying every day. This British soldier is an eye for an eye a tooth for tooth. We apologise that women had to see this today but in our lands our women have to see the same. You people will never be safe. Remove your government. They don't care about you.

Cameron, who is in Paris for meetings with François Hollande, said at a press conference at the Elysée Palace:

I've been briefed by the Home Secretary about this sickening attack in Woolwich in London. It is the most appalling crime. We obviously are urgently seeking, the police are urgently seeking, the full facts about this case but there are strong indications that it is a terrorist incident.

Two people at the scene of the murder were wounded by the police and they are being treated as suspects. The Home Secretary is chairing COBRA tonight to bring together the police, the security services, all of the agencies, so that we can gather every piece of information that we can. The police and the security services in the UK will get all of the support that they need to deal with this or indeed any other incident.

I'll be returning to London later tonight, so that I can chair a COBRA meeting again in the morning to make sure that we have all of the facts of this case. Tonight, our thoughts should be with the victim, with their family, with their friends. People across Britain, people in every community, I believe, will utterly condemn this attack. We've had these sorts of attacks before in our country and we never buckle in the face of them. We show indomitable British spirit. The terrorists never win because they cannot defeat the values we hold dear.

He will travel back to London tonight and attend a COBRA meeting tomorrow morning.

Miliband, who cut short a visit to Germany to return to the UK, said:

This is a truly appalling murder which will shock the entire country. All of my thoughts are with the family and friends of the victim. The British people will be horrified by what has happened in Woolwich. They will be united in believing that this terror on our streets cannot be allowed to stand. The Labour Party will offer the Government our complete support in establishing the facts of what happened and ensuring that those responsible face the full force of British justice.

Although some MPs have suggested that parliament, which went into recess yesterday, should be recalled, a spokesman for John Bercow said that there had been no request from Downing Street for him to do so.

One of the Woolwich murder suspects is shown holding a bloodied machete. Photograph: ITV News.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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Forget planning for no deal. The government isn't really planning for Brexit at all

The British government is simply not in a position to handle life after the EU.

No deal is better than a bad deal? That phrase has essentially vanished from Theresa May’s lips since the loss of her parliamentary majority in June, but it lives on in the minds of her boosters in the commentariat and the most committed parts of the Brexit press. In fact, they have a new meme: criticising the civil service and ministers who backed a Remain vote for “not preparing” for a no deal Brexit.

Leaving without a deal would mean, among other things, dropping out of the Open Skies agreement which allows British aeroplanes to fly to the United States and European Union. It would lead very quickly to food shortages and also mean that radioactive isotopes, used among other things for cancer treatment, wouldn’t be able to cross into the UK anymore. “Planning for no deal” actually means “making a deal”.  (Where the Brexit elite may have a point is that the consequences of no deal are sufficiently disruptive on both sides that the British government shouldn’t  worry too much about the two-year time frame set out in Article 50, as both sides have too big an incentive to always agree to extra time. I don’t think this is likely for political reasons but there is a good economic case for it.)

For the most part, you can’t really plan for no deal. There are however some things the government could prepare for. They could, for instance, start hiring additional staff for customs checks and investing in a bigger IT system to be able to handle the increased volume of work that would need to take place at the British border. It would need to begin issuing compulsory purchases to build new customs posts at ports, particularly along the 300-mile stretch of the Irish border – where Northern Ireland, outside the European Union, would immediately have a hard border with the Republic of Ireland, which would remain inside the bloc. But as Newsnight’s Christopher Cook details, the government is doing none of these things.

Now, in a way, you might say that this is a good decision on the government’s part. Frankly, these measures would only be about as useful as doing your seatbelt up before driving off the Grand Canyon. Buying up land and properties along the Irish border has the potential to cause political headaches that neither the British nor Irish governments need. However, as Cook notes, much of the government’s negotiating strategy seems to be based around convincing the EU27 that the United Kingdom might actually walk away without a deal, so not making even these inadequate plans makes a mockery of their own strategy. 

But the frothing about preparing for “no deal” ignores a far bigger problem: the government isn’t really preparing for any deal, and certainly not the one envisaged in May’s Lancaster House speech, where she set out the terms of Britain’s Brexit negotiations, or in her letter to the EU27 triggering Article 50. Just to reiterate: the government’s proposal is that the United Kingdom will leave both the single market and the customs union. Its regulations will no longer be set or enforced by the European Court of Justice or related bodies.

That means that, when Britain leaves the EU, it will need, at a minimum: to beef up the number of staff, the quality of its computer systems and the amount of physical space given over to customs checks and other assorted border work. It will need to hire its own food and standards inspectors to travel the globe checking the quality of products exported to the United Kingdom. It will need to increase the size of its own regulatory bodies.

The Foreign Office is doing some good and important work on preparing Britain’s re-entry into the World Trade Organisation as a nation with its own set of tariffs. But across the government, the level of preparation is simply not where it should be.

And all that’s assuming that May gets exactly what she wants. It’s not that the government isn’t preparing for no deal, or isn’t preparing for a bad deal. It can’t even be said to be preparing for what it believes is a great deal. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.