After several days of coalition negotiations, David Cameron has just delivered his Commons statement on how the government plans to fill what he described as “the gaps” in Britain’s anti-terrorism armoury. As expected, he announced that the police would given the “temporary power” to seize passports at the border (currently they can only be removed by the Home Office). But he also went further and promised to explore a new “targeted, discretionary power” to prevent British terrorist suspects from returning to the UK and to reintroduce “relocation powers”, which the government earlier abolished.
In response, in a largely supportive reply, Ed Miliband criticised Cameron for “the mistake” of scrapping Control Orders in 2011, which allowed the police to relocate suspects. It is worth noting, however, that even in their tougher form, the government’s TPIMs (Terrorism Investigation and Prevention Measures) remain less draconian than the measures they replaced.
But the most notable moment came when former Tory attorney general Dominic Grieve, who was sacked in the recent cabinet reshuffle, warned that Cameron’s plan to prevent British nationals from returning would breach both international law and UK law. He said:
I do share concerns that have been expressed that the suggestion British nationals, however horribly they may be alleged to have behaved, should be prevented from returning to this country. Not only does it offend principles of international law, it would actually offend basic principles of our own common law as well.
He added: “The best course is to bring these individuals to justice”. In response, while agreeing that it was best to prosecute people where possible, Cameron insisted that the most important thing was to address the “gaps” in the government’s powers. While earlier promising cross-party talks on the issue, he offered no indication of how he would overcome Grieve’s objection.
After his forced departure, owing to his strong support for the European Convention on Human Rights, the former attorney general is emerging as a fierce critic of Cameron’s approach. He recently warned that allowing parliament to overrule the ECHR would be “not dissimilar from Putin using the Duma to ratify his annexation of the Crimea”. With Cameron likely to make human rights reform one of the centrepieces of the Tory conference, Grieve will be a useful ally for Labour and the Lib Dems.