Blair to curb human rights in war on terror
London Telegraph | August 6, 2005
Tony Blair served notice yesterday that he was ready to renounce parts of the European convention on human rights if British and European judges continued to block the deportation of Islamic extremists in the wake of the London bombings.
In a significant shift away from the human rights policies championed by Labour since 1997, Mr Blair indicated that he was no longer prepared to allow Britain to be a haven for Muslim extremists whose presence in London has resulted in its being dubbed "Londonistan".
He said he was prepared for "a lot of battles" with the courts, which have repeatedly intervened to prevent the Home Secretary from deporting "preachers of hate" and other foreign nationals regarded as a threat to national security.
"Should legal obstacles arise, we will legislate further, including, if necessary, amending the Human Rights Act in respect of the interpretation of the European convention on human rights," the Prime Minister said.
At a Downing Street press conference before leaving for his summer holiday, he outlined 12 far-reaching curbs on civil liberties to tackle the growth of Islamic extremism.
The sweeping package of anti-terrorist laws included deporting Islamic extremists, closing mosques that fomented hatred, outlawing radical Muslim groups such as Hizb-ut-Tahrir, vetting foreign imams before they came to Britain and stronger powers to deal with home-grown fanatics.
Mr Blair said that because of the London bombings the public wanted new laws to deport and exclude religious fanatics and extremists who were abusing the country's traditional values of tolerance and fair play. The mood was now different and people no longer accused the Government of "scaremongering".
"Let no one be in any doubt," he said, "the rules of the games are changing."
At the heart of the security measures was Mr Blair's determination to regain the right of the elected government to deport foreigners it believed posed a threat to national security.
This was a recognition that the Human Rights Act, introduced by Labour in 1998, had made it virtually impossible to deport foreign militants and enabled the law lords to strike down anti-terrorism laws because they considered them incompatible with the European convention.
Mr Blair's wife, Cherie, a human rights lawyer, has said that the Government should not be provoked into interfering with the independence of the courts. Questioned about her views, the Prime Minister said the right to life and freedom from terrorism was a basic human right.
New grounds for deportation published by the Home Office included fostering hatred, advocating or justifying violence, or active engagement with extremist websites, bookshops and networks.
Mr Blair acknowledged that, since 1996, deportations had been blocked as a result of a European Court ruling that article 3 of the convention on human rights prevented people from being sent back to countries where they could face torture or ill-treatment. He said the circumstances of Britain's national security had changed and the Government was ready to test its new powers in the courts at home and in Europe.
The Government was seeking assurances from the countries where deportees would be returned that they would not be ill-treated. Agreement had been reached with Jordan and discussions were continuing with 10 other countries, including Algeria and Lebanon.
In what will be seen as a plea to British and European judges to reflect the public demand for action, Mr Blair said that France and Spain, both subject to the same human rights convention, were able to deport by administrative decision, with their courts ready to accept assurances that deportees would not be ill-treated on their return.
David Davis, the shadow home secretary, welcomed the Government's proposals. He said it was vital that the Home Secretary was able to use his powers to deport or exclude non-British citizens who threatened national security.
Mr Blair ran into opposition from civil rights campaigners and the Liberal Democrats, who said the Government risked inflaming tensions and alienating Muslims.
Eric Metcalfe, of the human rights group Justice, predicted that any attempt to amend the Human Rights Act to force the courts to deport foreigners was "doomed to failure".
Some mainstream Muslim groups backed the measures. Omar Farook, of the Islamic Society of Britain, said that measures to deal with "the menace" of foreign extremists who based themselves in Britain were long overdue. But the Islamic Council of Britain said the ban on Hizb-ut-Tahrir would be counter-productive.
Mr Blair acknowledged that while the public had responded with tolerance to the attacks on London, there was also a determination "that this very tolerance and determination should not be abused by a small fanatical minority".
He confirmed that there would be new anti-terrorist legislation in the autumn, including an offence of condoning or glorifying terrorism which would apply anywhere, not only in Britain.
If it could be prepared in time, the Government was ready to recall Parliament next month from its 80-day summer recess.
Mr Blair acknowledged that there was now a need to consider whether the policy of multi-culturalism had resulted in ethnic groups failing to integrate.
The Government would consider whether requirements for people who became British citizens were adequate: swearing allegiance to the country, taking part in a citizenship ceremony and having an adequate grasp of the language.
He emphasised that the new powers were aimed at a "fringe of extremists" and not the law-abiding Muslim community.
"Coming to Britain is not a right and, even when people have come here, staying here carries with it a duty," he said. "That duty is to ensure and support the values that sustain the British way of life.
"Those who break that duty and try to incite hatred or engage in violence against our country or our people have no place here."