A SENIOR Cabinet Minister has defended plans to strengthen counter-terrorism measures against claims they were a “knee-jerk” response.
Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said the country faced “very real threats” and laws needed to be “stiffened up” as the Government prepares to unveil plans to prevent would-be jihadis from travelling to Iraq and Syria and keep out Britons returning from the conflict.
The changes will be announced by the Prime Minister in a Commons statement today, after a weekend of discussions with the Liberal Democrats about the details. It is understood the measures under consideration would make it easier to remove people’s passports through temporary seizure powers at the border in order to prevent them travelling to Middle East trouble zones.
Officials are also looking at the prospect of a “temporary bar” on British citizens suspected of terrorist activity abroad returning, a measure which would stop short of stripping them of citizenship and rendering them stateless.
The package could also include beefed-up powers under the terrorism prevention and investigation measures (Tpims) regime.
There have been calls, including from the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation David Anderson, for the ability to impose “internal exile” on suspects, a key part of the old control orders regime, to be restored.
Former Liberal Democrat leader Lord Ashdown hit out at the Tory response to the terror threat level being raised from “substantial” to “severe”, claiming Ministers including Mr Cameron had set out to frighten people in an effort to secure support for new powers.
But Mr Fallon said: “These are very real threats. We have had Tube trains blown up, London buses, Glasgow Airport attacked, a soldier murdered in broad daylight. This isn’t any kind of knee-jerk response.
“The Prime Minister made clear on Friday we need to be calm and measured about the way that we do this.
“But when we look at our current instruments, our armoury of things or how we deal with these threats, there are some gaps. We need to make sure that, where we can, we plug those existing gaps.”
Several hundred British nationals are estimated to have travelled to Iraq and Syria to join the Islamic State uprising, and other western European countries have also been a source of foreign fighters. Mr Fallon said the risk posed by returning jihadis from across Europe underlined the need for international action.