Britain updates

August 2022

  • Revelation of British intelligence complicity in detention and torture of Jagtar Singh Johal in India
  • Revelations of Canadian intelligence role in smuggling Shamima Begum and the ‘Bethnal Green 3’ into Syria
  • Latest Home Office statistics on counter-terror policing indicate turn towards targeting children
  • Fourth IS ‘Beatle’ arrested and charged in Britain
  • National Crime Agency Director General appointed, after ‘cronyism’ scandal mars process
  • New Prime Minister Liz Truss unveils new Cabinet, and continues rightward lurch of government
  • Policy changes under the new government: Bill of Rights shelved, tweaks to Online Safety Bill expected
  • Britain invited to new pan-Europe body in early test of PM Truss’ alliances

Revelation of British intelligence complicity in detention and torture of Jagtar Singh Johal in India

  • Jagtar Singh Johal is a British national who was abducted and detained by police in the Indian state of Punjab in November 2017.
  • While subject to torture in detention he signed and recorded a confession to involvement in pro-’Khalistan’/Sikh separatist groups, and is currenly facing charges of conspiracy to murder and ‘being a member of a terrorist gang.’
  • In August it was revealed that Johal’s arrest took place after Indian authorities were tipped off by British MI5 and MI6.Johal has issued a case at the High Court against the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, the Home Office and the Attorney General for damages for ‘breaches of the Data Protection Act 1998, assault and battery, negligence and misfeasance in public office’.
  • During a Parliamentary debate on the case called after the revelations, demands were made by David Davis MP for the government to initiate a review into cases, including Johal’s and other known incidents, of British complicity in the torture of British citizens abroad.
    The government response was non-committal.
  • Collaboration between the British and Indian government over the repression of alleged Sikh separatist activists has stretched back to at least the 1980s, and the British government has made a number of recent moves to deepen ‘counter-terror’ collaboration with the Modi government.These include Boris Johnson’s meeting with Indian Prime Minister Modi in April, where an emphasis on tackling pro-Khalistani groups was made explicit, and the meeting of the the India-UK Joint Working Group on Counter Terrorism in London, where expanding transnational collaboration on counter-terrorism was announced.

Revelations of Canadian intelligence role in smuggling Shamima Begum and the ‘Bethnal Green 3’ into Syria

  • According to coverage, British authorities were made aware of the asset smuggling British citizens to Syria, and agreed to cover up Canada’s role after being asked by Canadian authorities.
  • The case of the three schoolgirls – Shamima Begum, Amira Abase and Kadiza Sultana, also known as the Bethnal Green 3 – leaving to join IS in February 2015 was a major political development for British counter-terrorism, used to justify the expansion of invasive security policies at the height of IS’ power.Both Amira Abase and Kadiza Sultana are believed to have died.
    Shamima Begum resurfaced in the Al-Hol camp in Northeastern Syria in 2019, and had her citizenship revoked by then-Home Secretary Sajid Javid – who likely was aware of the role of Canadian intelligence in her travel.
  • The revelation has brought under further scrutiny the decision by Javid, and the way that the act served as an opportunist political exercise, rather than out of any meaningful concern for the British public.More broadly, the case further undermines the British government’s policy – an outlier internationally – to deprive citizenship of Britons held in the detention camps in Northeastern Syria, rather than to bring them home to prosecute.
  • It should also raise serious questions of how British and international intelligence agencies facilitate acts that they can publicise and prosecute, thereby justifying an extension of their own powers and budgets.

Latest Home Office statistics on counter-terror policing indicate turn towards targeting children

  • The Home Office released its latest statistics on counter-terror policing, arrests and prosecutions for the year July 2021-June 2022.Among the major takeaways from the data was a notable turn towards children being caught up in terror arrests and prosecutions, with the highest ever number (33) of under 18 year olds arrested during this period – 16% of all arrests.
  • The most common offences for which individuals were charged and convicted were for Section 58 of the Terrorism Act 2000 (Collection) and Section 2 Terrorism Act 2006 (Dissemination).

Both of these are offences that are very likely connected to consumption of sharing of terrorist-designated online or digital content.

  • As noted by the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation on his recent report on online terror offences, there has been a troubling increase in minors being arrested for online terror-related offences – which according to him ‘calls into question the use of special powers in the minds of the public and, as I have witnessed, in the minds of police officers required to exercise those powers.’.
  • This is backed up by the fact that, of the 58 terrorism-related convictions concluded by the Crown Prosecution Services, this past year saw the highest ever proportion of non-custodial sentences, such as community service (14; 24% of convictions).This again indicates that counter-terror powers are being used for prosecuting offences which courts themselves do not believe pose a risk to the public.
  • A more in-depth analysis of the statistics by CAGE can be found here.

Fourth IS ‘Beatle’ arrested and charged in Britain

  • Londoner Aine Davis was deported to Britain by Turkish authorities in August, and arrested upon arrival.He was subsequently charged with charges relating to possession of a firearm for a purpose connected with terrorism, and fundraising for terrorism.
  • Davis, also known as ‘Jihadi Paul’, was the fourth member of the so-called ’Beatles’ – four British nationals serving as executioners for IS, including Mohammed Emwazi, aka ‘Jihadi John’.

He will face trial in February 2023.

National Crime Agency Director General appointed, after ‘cronyism’ scandal mars process

  • The latest Director General of the National Crime Agency (NCA), among the most senior policing roles in the country, has concluded with the appointment of Graeme Biggar.Biggar’s previous roles included serving as Director for National Security at the Home Office, Chief of Staff to the Defence Secretary, and working on response to terror attacks in 2017 and the implementation of the Investigatory Powers Act – the so-called ‘Snooper’s Charter’.
  • The appointment process had earlier been marred by scandal after the Prime Minister’s office had intervened to try and secure the role for Bernard Hogan-Howe, an ally of Boris Johnson, forcing a re-run of the application process.
  • The scandal was another example of failed attempts by Boris Johnson’s office to put allies in place in key institutional roles in order to further expand the government’s political influence  – including an attempt to institute former Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre as chair of communications regulator Ofcom last year.

New Prime Minister Liz Truss unveils new Cabinet, and continues rightward lurch of government

  • The Conservative Party’s leadership election concluded on 5th September, with Liz Truss beating contender Rishi Sunak by 57.4% of votes to 42.6%.As the clear frontrunner for much of the race, Truss was able to define the terms of the election, forcing Sunak to make increasingly desperate appeals to ‘culture war’-style politics to try and secure votes.
  • Upon taking the role she initiated a Cabinet reshuffle, with significant ministerial appointments including:Suella Braverman as Home Secretary, replacing Priti Patel.
    Tom Tugendhat as Security Minister, replacing Stephen McPartland.
    James Cleverly as Foreign Secretary, replacing Liz Truss.
    Ben Wallace continuing in his role as Defence Secretary.
  • Despite the changes, the new government is expected to serve largely as continuity with the Johnson government, particularly on key matters of foreign policy and security.As Attorney General Suella Braverman intervened to secure a review in the Court of Appeal of the decision to clear the anti-racist protestors that toppled the Edward Colston statue, for example. She has made clear her intentions to ramp up the inhumane anti-migrant policies of her predecessor, and to continue the government’s attacks on the European Convention on Human Rights.

    Meanwhile Tom Tugendhat, despite being framed as a party ‘moderate’, has a background serving in the Iraq and Afghan wars and is especially hawkish on China, indicating continuity with the expansion of ‘National Security’ policies seen under the Johnson government.

  • Truss emerged as the standard bearer for the Conservative party’s right wing – and has been notably hawkish in her response to the Russia-Ukraine war.Truss, however, lacks the political acumen and charisma that ensured Boris Johnson’s success in consolidating the party and voters behind him.

    It remains to be seen whether she will attempt to compensate with increasing appeals to ‘Culture Wars’ and racist populism.

Policy changes under the new government: Bill of Rights shelved, tweaks to Online Safety Bill expected

  • Shortly after the new Cabinet took up their roles, it was announced that the Bill of Rights – designed to replace the Human Rights Act, and drastically weaken rights protections in Britain – was being ‘shelved’.It is likely that the Bill will return in some form – perhaps after being modified and tightened up legally – and that its postponement is to stave off an early public confrontation that the new government is not enthusiastic about facing.
  • The election of Liz Truss is also expected to lead to some amendments to the Online Safety Bill.During the leadership election, her supporters stated that she would ‘revise online safety laws to ensure they do not damage freedom of speech’ if she succeeded.

    MP Nadine Dorries, who had been spearheading the Bill as Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, has also stepped down from her role after the Cabinet reshuffle.

Britain invited to new pan-Europe body in early test of PM Truss’ alliances

  • In the immediate aftermath of the Russian operation in Ukraine, a number of world leaders announced proposals at creating new international forums, groupings or bodies in order to consolidate or facilitate shifting geopolitical alliances.
  • One such proposal was for the ‘European Political Community’ announced by French President Macron as a parallel body to the EU, and which would allow membership from states outside the EU such as Ukraine – and potentially Britain.
  • Britain has been invited to the first meeting of the European Political Community in October, and the response of new Prime Minister Truss will be seen as indicative of her stance towards repairing relations with Europe and/or maintaining her predecessor’s commitment to a pro-US/Atlanticist thrust.
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July 2022

  • Independent Reviewer report warns of the dangers of current approach towards counter-terrorism online
  • Intelligence and Security Committee report on far-right extremism warns of far-right groups recruiting military and police personnel
  • Robin Simcox appointed lead commissioner for the Commission for Countering Extremism
  • Rishi Sunak proposal to expand Prevent to those with ‘extreme hatred of Britain’
  • Rishi Sunak issues pledge to deepen anti-China policies
  • UK strengthening economic and security ties across Middle East, South-east Asia and Africa to project power

Independent Reviewer report warns of the dangers of current approach towards counter-terrorism online

  • Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation Jonathan Hall released a report on the approach taken by police towards terrorism offences for online activity.While Hall has been among the more hawkish of Independent Reviewers, and has been supportive of much of the government’s approach to counter-terrorism, this report took a critical perspective on the issue of ‘online terrorism’.
  • In it, he warned of the overly broad definition of terrorism law as applied to the online space, which risks catching ‘keybord warriors’, whilst also stating that ‘[G]overnment-sponsored research on convicted terrorist offenders in the UK suggests that those who were primarily radicalised online are least likely to be attackers.’

    Of particular concern to the report is the over-representation of children in counter-terror arrests for online activity recently.
  • Interestingly, the report also concedes to the discriminatory nature of counter-terrorism, stating that ‘The consequences of deploying counter-terrorism powers only against those who match the image of the ‘terrorist’ must be squarely acknowledged. Irrational discrimination, with bias against racial or religious minorities based on whether a suspect fits into certain stereotypes, would be all too likely.’
  • The report urged a new approach to dealing with suspicious online activity for youths which leans more on disruption than criminal investigation – which suggests an approach that leans more towards a Prevent-style model or behavioural orders akin to ASBOs.

Intelligence and Security Committee report on far-right extremism warns of far-right groups recruiting military and police personnel

  • The Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) published a report on an inquiry into far-right ‘extremism’.
  • News coverage of the report focused on its findings that the army and police had lax policies on vetting and managing recruits and personnel with regards to membership of far-right groups, particularly groups which aren’t currently proscribed as terrorist.The report highlighted the ‘fact that the Armed Forces do not provide clear direction to service personnel regarding membership of any organisation – let alone an extremist one – … [could be a] somewhat risky approach, given the sensitive roles of many service personnel.

     

  • The inquiry also noted institutional measures taken in recent years with regards to anti-far-right-extremism work within MI5 and Prevent, and expressed concern at the under-resourcing of MI5 in this respect, describing it as ‘untenable’.This investment in far-right ‘extremism’ puts those agencies further at odds with the current political direction of travel of Prevent, with its expected shift away from combatting far-right ‘extremism’ and back towards an overwhelming focus on Muslims.

Robin Simcox appointed lead commissioner for the Commission for Countering Extremism

  • On 27th July, Robin Simcox was formally announced as lead commissioner for the Commission for Countering Extremism (CCE), for a period of 3 years.
  • This follows an extended ‘interim period’ where he served as temporary commissioner from April 2021, after ex-commissioner Sara Khan completed her term in March 2021.
  • Robin Simcox has been a fellow at the hard-right Henry Jackson Society and the Heritage Foundation, a US thinktank with close ties to Donald Trump, as well being Director of the Counter Extremism Group thinktank.He has previously gone on record advocating a freeze on engagement with “extremist groups” like Mend and MCB, and has criticised concessions made by the Conservative Party with regards to investigating Islamophobia within the party.
  • His background in the security field, alongside these statements, indicate a shift of CCE strategy towards a more hardline approach to extremism in line with the current government, and away from the strategy taken under Sara Khan, of trying to build consent for counter-extremism among civil society.His work in the role during his ‘interim’ period – prioritising engagement with government bodies, security thinktanks and academics – also indicate that Simcox will be using the CCE as more of an internally-facing advisory body to government policy than his predecessor.
  • Simcox is accused of having links to far-right ideologues, including those promoting the ‘Great Replacement Theory’ – such as academic Lorenzo Vidino, whose work was instrumental to the crackdown on Muslim society in Austria.Indeed, during his interim term Simcox has engaged with the Austrian Documentation Centre on Political Islam, which is a core part of the Austrian state’s Islamophobic apparatus and on whose advisory council Vidino sits.

Rishi Sunak proposal to expand Prevent to those with ‘extreme hatred of Britain’

  • Conservative Party leadership contender Rishi Sunak issued a pledge to expand the definition of extremism to include those with an “extreme hatred of Britain”, and therefore making such individuals vulnerable to Prevent referrals.
  • The proposal was widely ridiculed, with even figures from within the counter-terror world attacking it.
  • Sunak’s pledge appeared more to be a desperate and opportunistic attempt to appeal to a Conservative party voting base with an appetite for ‘culture war’ concessions like these – rather than a thought-through policy position, or something emerging from within the counter-terror industry.
  • However, the fact that Sunak felt comfortable to make use of Prevent in such a cavalier manner speaks volumes to the dangerously malleable nature of the policy.

Rishi Sunak issues pledge to deepen anti-China policies

  • Another pledge issued by Rishi Sunak as part of his leadership campaign was a vow to ‘get tough’ with China if elected party leader, and to deepen anti-China policies currently undertaken by Britain and other Western governments.
  • He described China as “the biggest-long-term threat to Britain and the world’s economic and national security” and accused it of “infiltrating universities”.The pledge included vows to close down ‘Confucius Institutes’ – Chinese-language teaching centres in universities sponsored by the Chinese government – as well as to ‘build a new international alliance of free nations to tackle Chinese cyber-threats’.

    He also reiterated discredited theories of Chinese ‘debt trap diplomacy’.

  • Unlike his reviled proposal to expand Prevent, this pledge chimes with the hawkish approach towards China that the security services have been pushing for, and is therefore likely to accord a friendlier reception if instituted.

UK strengthening economic and security ties across Middle East, South-east Asia and Africa to project power

  • The UK has signed a number of agreements and partnerships strengthening its economic and security ties with the governments of the UAE, Qatar, Kenya, Ghana, and ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations).
  • These include strategic security agreements with Ghana, moves to scale up security links with ASEAN nations, ties with Qatar and UAE for securing ‘regional stability’, and funding Anti-Terrorism Police headquarters in Kenya.
  • These agreements form part of the government’s ‘Global Britain’ agenda outlined in its 2021 Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy.The strategy emphasised expanding Britain’s global presence through nodes of influence across the Middle East, Indo-Pacific region and Africa to project military and economic power, and secure political influence.

    Through this, the British government would also export its security policies worldwide, as indicated by these agreements.

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June 2022

  • Former Counter-terror lead Mark Rowley appointed Metropolitan Police chief
  • Online Safety Bill amended to include proposed duty on social media platforms to ‘proactively tackle state-sponsored disinformation’
  • MI5 & FBI issue joint announcement on ‘threat’ posed by China, as part of shift towards public advocacy
  • New Army Chief warns that British soldiers should be prepared to fight in Europe
  • Marking NATO summit, Boris Johnson pledges increase in military contribution to NATO and spending on military
  • Bill of Rights introduced to replace Human Rights Act
  • Reforms introduced to weaken Parole Board

Former Counter-terror lead Mark Rowley appointed Metropolitan Police chief

  • In early July, former National Lead for Counter-terror Policing Mark Rowley was announced as new commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, replacing Cressida Dick.Chosen to clean up the image of the scandal-ridden force, Rowley’s appointment represents the increasingly porous relationship between British policing and counter-terrorism.
  • After his retirement from policing in 2018, Rowley has remained in the orbit of counter-terror work, and has made frequent interventions calling for increased securitisation.For example in 2018 he was appointed to the board of the Commission for Countering Extremism (CCE) under the tenure of Sara Khan, and led on its legal review on countering “hateful extremism”’ – as part of the effort of the CCE and other agencies to collapse hate crime into extremism.
  • He has argued for engagement with Prevent to be made mandatory rather than consensual and suggested the introduction of lie-detector tests as part of Prevent.Additionally, he has blamed the failures of Prevent on “naive cultural sensitivity and…infiltration of Prevent by highly questionable groups” – echoing the line taken by the likes of the Henry Jackson Society and Policy Exchange more recently.He has also asserted the need for courts to be more proactive in removing children from those convicted of offences under terror laws, and has argued for offenders to be given indefinite prison sentences until they can prove they are ‘no longer a risk to the public’.
  • In a lecture for the right-wing thinktank Policy Exchange, Rowley compared CAGE and MEND to far-right groups like the EDL.In the same lecture he simultaneously praised now-Prevent reviewer William Shawcross as an “impressive leader” for his role in countering ‘extremism’ as chair of the Charity Commission – during which time it launched an unprecedented crackdown on Muslim and pro-Palestine charities.
  • In short, Rowley will find himself very much at home among the current government, and his role at the Met fits well with the alignment between pro-security and hard rightwing actors in major positions of power – including William Shawcross’ role as Prevent reviewer.

Online Safety Bill amended to include proposed duty on social media platforms to ‘proactively tackle state-sponsored disinformation’

  • The Online Safety Bill was introduced to Parliament in March.
    It pioneers a framework that grants the government unprecedented ability to control and manage online content and online service providers, such as social media platforms, via the regulator Ofcom.
  • The Bill as introduced was focused on illegal content, such as Child Sexual Abuse and terrorist content, but allows for the targeting of ‘legal but harmful content’, which can be defined and amended by Parliament.Harmful content is defined as content which ‘may fall short of amounting to a criminal offence, [but] can have damaging effects on individuals – creating toxic online environments and negatively impacting a user’s ability to express themself online’,
  • In June an amendment was added to the Bill which places a duty on social media platforms to ‘proactively tackle Russian and other state-sponsored disinformation aimed at undermining the UK’, and ‘minimise people’s exposure to state-sponsored or state-linked disinformation aimed at interfering with the UK’.In doing so, the amendment connects the Online Safety Bill to the National Security Bill, also currently making its way through Parliament, which forms part of Britain’s major foreign policy pivot away from counter-terrorism and towards countering ‘hostile state threats’.
  • With the government currently in disarray after Boris Johnson’s resignation, the passage of the Online Safety Bill is temporarily on hold until a new Prime Minister is put in place.Given that the Bill has been developed since Theresa May’s tenure as Prime Minister, there is little to suggest that Boris Johnson’s successor will deviate from plans to drive the Bill forward – though Liz Truss’s supporters have said that she would ‘revise online safety laws to ensure they do not damage freedom of speech’ if she succeeded.
  • The dangers of the Online Safety Bill are clear, and it fits within a pattern of Western governments instituting an architecture enabling them to carefully manage content and discourse online.The gradual expansion from targeting illegal content to ‘lawful but harmful’ content to the politicised notion of ‘disinformation’ is deeply troubling and a blank cheque for censorship.

MI5 & FBI issue joint announcement on ‘threat’ posed by China, as part of shift towards public advocacy

  • On 7th July, the heads of MI5 and the FBI held a joint press conference to warn that China posed the ‘biggest long-term threat to our economic and national security’.
  • This follows recent high profile moves by security services to direct attention towards China, such as MI6 director Richard Moore stating last year that “Adapting to a world affected by the rise of China is the single greatest priority for MI6” and MI5’s alert about alleged Chinese ‘agent’ Christine Lee influencing parliamentarians in January of this year.
  • The announcement also further signals the pivot towards combatting alleged ‘hostile state threats’ under the banner of national security – which is rapidly coming to replace the ‘counter-terrorism’ framework as the primary means of securitisation in Britain.Moreover, the joint press conference – described as ‘unprecedented’ – is another example example of the increasing visibility and public advocacy undertaken by security agencies – something that MI5 chief Ken McCallum mentioned as being a focus for him upon his appointment in 2020.CIA Director William J Burns recently mentioned this as an important part of his agency’s work going forward, as well.

New Army Chief warns that British soldiers should be prepared to fight in Europe

  • Speaking on the ongoing war in Ukraine, the British  Army’s recently appointed Chief Sir Patrick Sanders made the disturbing statement that “We are the generation that must prepare the Army to fight in Europe once again”.The statement signalled a troubling escalation of rhetoric around the war, and marked the gradual ratcheting up of Britain towards a full war posture against Russia.
  • In addition to the dangers posed by active military intervention itself, Britain formally declaring war with Russia would also alter the legal status of foreign fighters travelling to Ukraine to fight Russia.While Britons have been discouraged from travelling to fight Russia thus far – to do so currently may violate the Foreign Enlistment Act 1870 – a formal declaration of war would legitimise the flow of fighters between Britain and Ukraine, who may encounter and/or ingratiate themselves with the far-right forces that constitute a serious organised presence in the Ukrainian forces.
  • Any further escalation towards formal participation in the war would also likely see an increase in the targeting, repression and censorship of anti-war or otherwise dissenting viewpoints within Britain, which have been subject to an unprecedented crackdown since the onset of the war in February.

Marking NATO summit, Boris Johnson pledges increase in military contribution to NATO and spending on military

  • Between 28-30th June, NATO held its summit in Madrid, Spain.To mark the summit, Boris Johnson announced his ambition to increase Britain’s military spending, from a commitment of 2% of Britain’s annual GDP to 2.5% by the end of the decade.He also pledged to increase Britain’s direct contribution towards NATO’s fighting force, including military equipment and forces.
  • Though he announced his resignation as Prime Minister shortly afterwards, this commitment is unlikely to be challenged by his predecessor, with an appetite among ministers to extend this spending commitment further – not least from Conservative leadership finalist Liz Truss.
  • These pledges also come alongside Britain’s active expansion of its military footprint in the wake of the Russia-Ukraine war, and its ambitions to expand its military presence further afield as part of its 2021 Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy.
  • With the Russia-Ukraine war looming in the backdrop, the NATO summit agreed on a new ‘Strategic Concept’ outlining its strategic direction, which included a significant pivot to Russia and China, an emphasis on the risks of conflict and instability across Africa and the Middle East, and introducing new threshold triggers for NATO’s Article 5 ‘collective defence’ treaty.

Bill of Rights introduced to replace Human Rights Act

  • The Bill of Rights was finally introduced to Parliament on 22nd June, having long been touted by government ministers as part of the post-Brexit reorganisation of the British judiciary.
  • The Bill of Rights is designed to replace the Human Rights Act 1998 in favour of a rights and judicial framework that grants greater control to the Government, and to ‘rebalance’ the relationship between the courts and Government.The Bill explicitly subordinates the judicial wing of the state to Parliament and the government, marking a brazen politicisation of the legal process and eroding any judicial independence.It also outlines cases where human rights law and processes effectively do not apply, insulating some of Britain’s most egregious state practices from any semblance of accountability.
  • In the lead up to the Bill’s publication, ministers have been explicit that the revocation of the Human Rights Act will be used to restrict the rights of prisoners convicted under counter-terror laws.In April 2022, Dominic Raab stated that the Bill of Rights will be used to legitimise the expansion of prison segregation wings for ‘extremist’ prisoners to “prevent terrorists using the Human Rights Act to claim a ‘right to socialise’ in prison”This is reiterated in the government’s press release for the Bill, which also states that the Bill ‘will make it easier to deport foreign criminals by allowing future laws to restrict the circumstances in which their right to family life would trump public safety and the need to remove them.

Reforms introduced to weaken Parole Board

  • In late June, Justice Minister Dominic Raab introduced a Statutory Instrument to Parliament to reform the role of the Parole Board in deciding on the release of prisoners.It grants the Deputy Prime Minister greater control over determining the release of ‘high risk’ or ‘dangerous’ prisoners from jail, while weakening the power of the Parole Board to grant release.
  • Under the reforms ‘Recommendations for release or moves to open prison for the most serious offenders – including murderers, rapists, terrorists and those who have caused or allowed the death of a child – will [now] be made by the Deputy Prime Minister before going to the Parole Board for its final decision’.
  • This move forms another part of a shift toward politicising the judicial process and weakening institutions of the judiciary, alongside the Bill of Rights.
    Reforms in the Counter-terrorism and Sentencing Act 2021 also restricted the standard release for certain terror offenders.
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May 2022

  • Leaks from Shawcross review of Prevent indicate a return to targeting ‘Islamists’
  • Divisions in the Home Office and counter-terror industry over the future of counter-extremism
  • National Security Bill introduced to Parliament
  • Investigation into abusive, far-right undercover MI5 asset published following attempted block by Attorney General
  • Multiple proposals for a new global security apparatus
  • Queen’s Speech outlines Parliamentary agenda for next year

Leaks from Shawcross review of Prevent indicate a return to targeting ‘Islamists’

  • During May, further leaks from the Independent Review of Prevent led by William Shawcross, gave an indication of the shape of the review and its recommendations.
  • The leaks in May centred on a proposed return to predominantly targeting ‘Islamist extremism’ – as opposed to the ‘equal opportunity anti-extremism’ that has shaped Prevent since 2016 – and criticising the supposedly overzealous targetting of ‘far-right extremism’ in recent years.According to coverage of the leak in The Guardian, William Shawcross has argued that the category of far-right extremism used in Prevent has ‘“been so broad it has included mildly controversial or provocative forms of mainstream, rightwing-leaning commentary that have no meaningful connection to terrorism or radicalisation”.’He has also apparently argued that Muslim organisations and projects funded by Prevent have promoted ‘extremist narratives’ themselves.
  • Leaks and speculation on the report published since David Amess MP’s killing in October 2021 also indicate that the Shawcross review is likely to propose:
    – The centralisation and securitisation of the Prevent process through greater MI5 control over Prevent and Channel panels, representing a break from the multi-agency community-police partnership model of Prevent.
    – A stripped back focus on ‘radicalisation leading to terrorism’ as opposed to the more wide-ranging policing of social practices that was promoted under David Cameron and Theresa May’s tenures
    –  Further isolating Muslim civil society groups critical of Prevent.
  • These latest leaks echo the narrative on the review promoted by pro-security thinktanks such as Policy Exchange, whose April report Delegitimising Counter-Terrorism identified a number of Muslim groups, including CAGE, as being responsible for the failure of Prevent.The Henry Jackson Society have also been leading calls to break from policing the far-right under Prevent and re-emphasising countering ‘Islamist extremism’ since last year, decrying supposed ‘political correctness’ as ‘paralysing’ Prevent.
  • Moreover, the strategy deployed by pro-security thinktanks mirrors the lead up the 2011 Prevent review under the Coalition government, where mounting failures and criticisms of Prevent were recast as an issue of extremist-adjacent Muslim groups infiltrating Prevent and poisoning perceptions of the programme.This tactic was used to justify government disengagement with even mildly critical Muslim organisations then, as is being demanded again – 11 years later.
  • The Shawcross review is expected in July, almost 3.5 years after first being mandated by the Counter-terrorism and Border Security Act 2019.Its release is being held up by lawyers within the Home Office pending legal and factual checks on its contents, indicating concerns that its attacks on Muslims organisations may cross over into libel or misleading characterisations.

Divisions in the Home Office and counter-terror industry over the future of counter-extremism

  • The proposal to reorient towards Islamist extremism has been controversial within the counter-terror industry.Many of its leading figures have staked their legitimacy on the turn towards equal opportunity anti-extremism in recent years, and on building community engagement strategies now under threat by Shawcross’ proposals.These include former lead of the Commission for Countering Extremism, Sara Khan, who argued that focusing on one form of ‘extremism’ was “totally counter-productive” as well as government advisers on extremism who pointed to the recent plurality of referrals of individuals under the ‘Mixed, Unstable or Unclear’ category as the future direction of Prevent.Their critiques echo divisions within Whitehall that have been alluded to for a number of years, for example over the fate of the recently-scrapped Building a Stronger Britain Together counter-extremism fund.
  • The leak of the Shawcross review to The Guardian itself indicated that these divisions had reached a boiling point, with the leaks likely intended to stoke dissent and undermine the review.The hostile response to the leaks from the likes of Alan Mendoza of the Henry Jackson Society further illustrates a ‘turf war’ within the field that has been growing under the tenure of Priti Patel.
  • These divisions centre around those who see Prevent as a ‘catch-all’ for managing all social ills – and who therefore see value in an ‘all extremisms’ approach – and those, represented by Shawcross and the current Home Office, who understand it more as a focused, ideological policing programme – and therefore call for greater discipline in targeting select ideologies, namely ‘Islamist extremism’.This also maps onto a further division between those who seek greater community and civil society buy-in for Prevent and counter-extremism – particularly through engagement and funding arrangements to bring civil society into the counter-extremism orbit – and those who desire a more centralised security and policing-led process, who are currently in charge of the review.

National Security Bill introduced to Parliament

  • The National Security Bill was introduced on 11th May, going through its Second Reading in Parliament on 6th June.
  • The Bill follows a consultation carried out by the Government in 2021 for the purposes of creating a law to:
    ‘modernise existing counter espionage laws to reflect the modern threat and modern legislative standards
    create new offences, tools and powers to detect, deter and disrupt hostile activity in and targeted at the UK
    improve our ability to protect official data and ensure the associated offences reflect the greater ease at which significant harm can be done’
  • The provisions in the Bill include a swathe of offences and powers directed at activity that is conducted at the behest, or on behalf, of ‘foreign powers’ that the British government has deemed hostile, including:- State Threats Prevention and Investigation Measures (STPIMs): modelled on counter-terror Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures (TPIMs) – which allow for severe restrictions and control over an individual’s movement, place of residence, travel and use of electronic devices, without any criminal conviction. (Schedule 4)
    Espionage offences: Creating a number of offences previously consolidated under ‘Espionage’, including ‘Obtaining or disclosing protected information’, ‘Obtaining or disclosing trade secrets’ and ‘Assisting a foreign intelligence service’, with maximum sentences ranging from 14 years to life imprisonment (sections 1-3)
    Prohibited place offence: Criminalising entry into a designated ‘prohibited place’; areas which are used for UK defence purposes; extracting any metals, oil or minerals for use for UK defence purposes; or for the purposes of the defence of a foreign country or territory (ss. 4-6)
    Sabotage: Criminalising damage to ‘assets’ including electronic systems and information, to the benefit of foreign powers, including through recklessness. Up to life imprisonment (s.12)
    Foreign Interference: Criminalising ‘Foreign interference’ with legal process, political processes, public functions or conduct which is prejudicial to the safety or interests of the UK with up to 14 years imprisonment (ss. 13-14)
    Preparatory offences: Creating a category of preparatory offences, criminalising preparation for the sabotage, prohibited place and espionage offences listed above (s.15)
    Arrest without warrant: Enabling arrest without warrant for up to 48 hours for anyone a constable ‘reasonably suspects is, or has been, involved in foreign power threat activity’ (s.21)
    Immunity for overseas crimes: Granting immunity from prosecution for assisting crimes overseas when carried out for the ‘proper exercise of any function’ of British security services or the army (s.23)
    Court Duty for considering national security considerations: Placing a duty on the courts to consider the reduction of civil damage payments to wronged individuals where national security considerations are invoked (s.58)
    Freezing civil damages: Allowing for the freezing and permanent withholding of civil damage payments to wronged individuals where ‘there is a real risk that those damages will be used for the purposes of terrorism’ (s.61)
    Denying civil legal aid following terror convictions: Denying individuals convicted of terror offenses the right to civil legal aid indefinitely (s.62)
  • According to Priti Patel, an amendment to the Bill introducing a ‘Foreign Influence Registration scheme’ will be proposed in due course.
  • Many provisions in the Bill subvert legal proceedings, criminalise behaviour well outside the realm of intentionality, or lend themselves to deeply politicised bad faith accusations – drawing from some of the worst excesses of counter-terror legislation.For example, some of the offences listed above can be prosecutable where an individual ‘ought to know’ that their conduct is prejudicial to the interests of the UK, where they commit an act through recklessness, cause ‘spiritual damage’ or commit an offence through neglect.Provisions in the Bill also enable the courts to bar the public from proceedings ‘If it is necessary in the interests of national security’ (s.31)
  • The Bill is the latest in what we can expect to be a litany of laws targeting ‘hostile activity’ from foreign states (or ‘malign actors’) – a concept first introduced in the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill 2019 – as the War on Terror-framework of counter-terrorism makes way for the targeting of hostile/foreign state activity, in the present era of great power rivalry.Though no state is named in the Bill – allowing for flexibility in the designation of states as ‘hostile’ – Priti Patel named Russia, China and Iran during the Parliamentary debate on the Bill’s Second Reading.
  • The proposals in the Bill are breathtakingly broad and draconian, and in many cases mirror and expand on the most egregious examples of counter-terror laws, such as the aforementioned TPIMs/STPIMs.Similar to how the Terrorism Act 2000 has served as the legislative backbone of the post-2001 counter-terror apparatus, the National Security Bill will likely be augmented and expanded through new anti-espionage and surveillance powers in the coming years.

Since the onset of the Russia-Ukraine war in February we have seen how a widespread suspension of critical faculties has enabled a swift crackdown on supposedly Russian-backed media sources, with the active or tacit support of the public and civil society.

The present Bill will feed off and entrench this cultural context of paranoia, censorship and national fervour which will be regularly renewed with allegations of foreign state meddling.

Accusations in the media alleging leading members of the RMT Union as being ‘Putinists’ in the run up to their June strikes also indicate the manner in which allegations of foreign allegiances will be deployed to delegitimise and repress political activity.

Investigation into abusive, far-right undercover MI5 asset published following attempted block by Attorney General

  • In May the BBC published an in-depth report of an unnamed Covert Human Intelligence Source (CHIS; an undercover asset) for MI5 who had fled the country after having violently abused and threatened to murder his partner, and after accumulating extensive ‘far-right extremist’ material.
  • The publication of the story had been delayed after an injunction was sought, unsuccessfully, in the High Court by Attorney General Suella Braverman, on grounds that it would damage national security and constitute a breach of confidence if any details on the CHIS’ identity were published.He was ultimately not named in the BBC report, other than specifying that he was a foreign national and that after fleeing the UK he had begun working for a foreign intelligence agency.
  • Following the publication of the report, the partner of the asset launched a legal case against MI5, on the basis that they had breached her human rights on account of the protections and impunity they had afforded the asset.
  • The use of CHISs by security services has been under scrutiny in recent years, first with the revelation that children were being deployed as CHIS assets into gangs to gather intelligence, and then with the passage of the Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Act which permitted CHISs to engage in criminal activity with impunity, up to and including murder.The fact that the CHIS in question was able to continue his intelligence career after fleeing Britain raises concerns both about the way that British security services are incorporating dangerous elements into their ranks, and providing them with skills and contacts that they can transfer into employment or illicit activity.

Multiple proposals for a new global security apparatus

  • There have been calls from a number of world leaders to create new institutions to develop a new global security apparatus or systems, which would expand the frontiers of European and American political and economic power.
  • On 27th April, UK Foreign Minister Liz Truss outlined Britain’s vision for a ‘Global NATO’ and for an ‘economic NATO’ advanced through the G7 in her ‘Return of geopolitics’ speech, which would draw in countries under the West’s political and economic umbrella in order to counter China.
  • The next day, the British ambassador for Honduras invited the country to this new ‘global security approach’, which would be based on
    Stronger defence, Boosting economic security and Building a stronger network of alliances.
  • In May, newly re-elected French President Emmanuel Macron called for a new European body alongside the EU, with membership available to countries outside of the EU’s parameters.He described it as a “new European organisation [that] would enable democratic European nations who adhere to our values to find a new space for political cooperation”, indicating that its priorities would include security, energy, movement across borders’.
  • Finally, in late April the US assembled a group of 40+ ‘nations of goodwill’, rallying them around the US’ position against Russia.
  • The Russia-Ukraine war has accelerated a geopolitical realignment years in the making and has, at least temporarily, rallied European and EU support around NATO and the US.These various proposals reflect attempts by different governments to assert a leadership role on the international stage during this period of realignment – and on the part of Macron may suggest that his long-held ambition of a ‘strategic autonomy’ from US dominance of the EU may not have ended with the Russia-Ukraine war.While they may or may not be mutually antagonistic at this point, these different proposals could likely harden into rivalries and competition in the future.And if domestic issues persist – such as the growing economic and political crisis in Britain, and developing elsewhere – then we may see more aggressive moves from these governments on the international stage in order to try and resolve these crises at home.

Queen’s Speech outlines Parliamentary agenda for next year

  • On 10th May, the government unveiled its legislative agenda for the coming year in the ‘Queen’s Speech’.38 laws were announced as part of the speech, which will be introduced as Bills over the coming year.
  • A number of the Bills concern policing and securitisation, advancing the agenda that has defined the present government of centralising and expanding the scope of state power, eroding democratic rights and legal safeguards, and granting impunity to state agencies.These include the:
    National Security Bill: Expanding and updating anti-espionage powers and criminalising conduct on behalf or, or which benefit, hostile ‘foreign powers’ (see above)
    Protect Duty Bill: Placing a statutory duty on public venues to increase security and develop counter-terror proofing plans, modelled on ‘Martyn’s Law’ adopted by Manchester City Council
    Bill of Rights: Replacing the Human Rights Act 1998 and drastically weakening rights protections
    Data Reform Bill: Scrapping GDPR data regulations and eroding privacy, while allowing for greater commercial exploitation of private data
    Public Order Bill: Reinstating anti-protest provisions removed from the sweeping Policing, Sentencing, Crime and Courts Act 2022
    Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill: Granting veterans amnesty for crimes carried out on behalf of the British state in the North of Ireland, providing that they engage with a new, independent commission.
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