The fight against terrorism, abroad and domestically, remains the top national security concern. The Coalition has departed from its predecessor on how it approaches this task in a number of different ways, the first of which was the establishment of the National Security Council on the day the Coalition was formed.
The National Security Council meets weekly to discuss the Government’s objectives for national security and ensure that ministers consider national security in the round and in a strategic way. Chaired by the Prime Minister, members also include the Deputy Prime Minister, Chancellor, Foreign Secretary, Home Secretary, Defence Secretary, International Development Secretary, Energy and Climate Change Secretary, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, and Minister for Government Policy.
A 2011 paper, The British Way of Strategy-Making: vital lessons for our times, published by the Royal United Services Institute offers a stern critique of this Council, saying that Britain can no longer make effective national defence strategies as it once did, because the Council lacks the method and institutional frame to address future security threats. It says that muddling military and civilian roles in higher management has blurred understanding of the distinct roles of grand strategy, operational strategy and government policy.
The Coalition has further departed from its predecessor’s approach by shifting the counter terrorism focus away from Pakistan, Afghanistan and the Middle East towards North Africa for a ‘generational’ struggle against al Qaeda affiliated groups.
On the domestic front, the Government has placed greater emphasis on preventing radicalisation, rather than simply reacting against extremists. Blocking funds to groups promoting terror was a major theme of David Cameron’s February 2011 speech in Munich, in which he said that state multiculturalism had failed. In this speech, he suggested that there would be greater scrutiny of some Islamic groups receiving public funds that do little to combat extremism. He said that ministers should refuse to share platforms with such groups, that they should be barred from spreading their messages in universities and prisons, and called for an end to the ‘passive tolerance’ of previous years.
The stated aim of the Government’s preventative counter-terrorism strategy is to create ‘a situation where Muslim communities reject and actively condemn violent extremism and seek to undermine and isolate violent extremists’. This has not been welcomed by some prominent Islamic groups, such as the Muslim Council of Britain, whose assistant Secretary General said the new counter terrorism strategy puts Muslims ‘very much in the spotlight, being treated as part of the problem as opposed to part of the solution’.
The Government has maintained Labour’s position of extraditing terror suspects to the US, most notably in October 2012, when Abu Hamza and four others were extradited to America after losing a high-profile court case. This practice has come under Parliamentary scrutiny, with Dominic Raab MP securing a debate on the extradition arrangement with the US in December 2011. The debate resulted in a motion calling for urgent reform of the US/UK treaty with overwhelming support. However the ongoing saga over the deportation of Abu Qatada to Jordan means that the issue of deporting terrorism suspects on national security grounds is far from resolved.
By their nature, threats to national security are uncertain and it is possible that the Government will face a number of different challenges including, as William Hague has warned, the threat of terrorist attacks from home grown terrorists who have been radicalised abroad. In dealing with these threats the coalition faces the politically sensitive balance of maintaining National Security without compromising civil liberties.
Progress against the Coalition Agreement
Pledge: We have established a National Security Council and appointed a National Security Adviser.
Status: Done – The National Security Council was established on 12 May 2010, with Sir Peter Ricketts appointed as National Security Adviser. Sir Kim Darroch is the current National Security Adviser.
Pledge: We have commenced a Strategic Defence and Security Review, commissioned and overseen by the National Security Council, with strong Treasury involvement. We will also develop and publish a new National Security Strategy.
Status: Done – The Strategic Defence and Security Review was published on 19 October 2010, and the National Security Strategy, A Strong Britain in an Age of Uncertainty, was published on 18 October 2010.
Pledge: We will urgently review Control orders, as part of counter-terrorist legislation, measures and programmes. We will seek to find a practical way to allow the use of intercept evidence in court.
Status: In progress - After a review of counter terrorism laws, the Government decided to scrap control orders and replace them with Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures in December 2011. The use of intercept evidence in court is something that the Government is still investigating.
Pledge: We will deny public funds to any group that has recently espoused or incited violence or hatred. We will proscribe such organisations, subject to the advice of the police and security and intelligence agencies.
Status: Done - The Government’s commitment to deny public funds to groups espousing hatred or violence was reaffirmed in the Prevent Strategy, published in June 2011. Since coming to power, the Coalition Government has proscribed Tehrik-e Pakistan, Muslims Against Crusades, Indian Mujahideen, and Ansaru.
Pledge: We believe that Britain should be able to deport foreign nationals who threaten our security to countries where there are verifiable guarantees that they will not be tortured. We will seek to extend these guarantees to more countries.
Status: In progress – The Government has fought a losing battle with the European Court of Human Rights on the deportation of radical cleric Abu Qatada to Jordan. Home Secretary Theresa May is pursuing this further in the Supreme Court, and Justice Secretary Chris Grayling is reaching out to Labour for support on deporting him.