The Foreign Secretary has warned about the threat of Brits becoming involved in IS. Photo: Getty
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Foreign Secretary: British nationals involved in IS atrocities

Philip Hammond says the UK is “very much aware” of Brits becoming involved in the Islamic State militant group.

Following the shocking, though yet unverified, footage showing the US journalist James Foley being beheaded by a masked militant who identifies himself as an Islamic State (IS) member, in an apparently British accent, the Foreign Secretary has voiced the UK’s condemnation.

Most striking about Philip Hammond’s comments to the BBC this morning about the video was his warning that British nationals are becoming involved with Jihadists in the killing in Iraq, commenting that there is a “significant number of British nationals” in Syria, and increasingly, in Iraq.

He said the UK is “very much aware” of the threat of Brits becoming involved in the IS extremist group, and acknowledged that “on the face of it”, it appears that the masked man in the horrific video is British, because of his accent – though further analysis of the footage is necessary.

Hammond revealed that UK security authorities knew there were some British citizens who have become complicit in “terrible crimes, probably in the commission of atrocities, making Jihad with ISIL and other extremist organisations”.

He added: “This is something we have been tracking and dealing with for many many months and I don't think this video changes anything.

“It just heightens awareness of a situation which is very grave and which we've been working on for many months.”

Hammond also warned that the apparent involvement of British citizens is one of the reasons that the militant group operating in Iraq poses “such a direct threat” to the UK. “Many of these people may seek at some point to return to the UK and they would then pose a direct threat to our domestic security.”

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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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.