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Patrick Mercer MP: We need a radically different approach to countering terrorism

Mercer Patrick Patrick Mercer is MP for Newark and Retford and former party spokesman on Homeland Security.

Britain is being completely failed by this Government’s feeble and weak-minded approach to protecting this country from terrorism.  Any faith I once had in the Home Office’s ability to combat the increasingly severe challenge we face as a nation has been replaced by a fear that, until we adopt radically different policies, this country will continue to be at serious risk of terrorist attack.

Whilst our superb troops fight our enemies in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Government is doing very little to stop terrorists from residing and communicating with each other in Britain and from being financed by the State.  Our armed forces are being let down by the Government whilst our enemies are making a mockery of our counter terrorism strategy.

The Government has been funding the very individuals who mean Britons nothing but harm.  Two weeks ago, the Government admitted that individuals on control orders have been receiving regular instalments of Jobseeker’s Allowance.  A month ago, it emerged that in 2008 the Home Office also gave one of these individuals £9,000 for accommodation, utility bills, council tax payments and phone bills.  The Government has since given no indication that it will stop using our money in this way in 2009.

In February this year, the European Court of Human Rights ordered the Government to pay more than £70,000 in compensation to Abu Qatada and eight other terror suspects for breaches of their rights under this Government’s Human Rights Act and the total bill for the ‘Prevent’ strand of Project CONTEST has now exceeded £100 million since 2006.  This is the part of the Government’s counter terrorism strategy which focuses on preventing radicalisation amongst the UK population.  Money is handed down to local authorities and organisations in amounts which relate to the size of each area’s Muslim population.  I find it deeply offensive that the Government’s ‘Prevent’ strategy is based upon the belief that if we pour money into areas with high Muslim populations, we will prevent extremism and terrorist violence.

This money pays for library talks, forums, initiatives and road shows and includes the spending of £54,000 on a website for an organisation called the Radical Middle Way.  The Government has not put in place a single performance indicator and even civil servants do not know whether this money is being effectively spent.  Given that the Security Services have been monitoring more and more terror suspects year on year, we must consider much better uses for this money.  Are we really to believe that an increase in the quality and quantity of library seminars will stop bombings on the Tube?  Money is now handed out with such frequency that I am not entirely sure that we can now be certain that our money is not finding its way into the hands of the very people against whom we are fighting.

We are also letting subversive individuals reside here in Britain so that they can plan their attacks and preach their hatred.  The Government is allowing dangerous individuals into Britain at an alarming rate and acknowledges that student visas are a major loophole in our border controls.  I was alarmed to hear the former Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, say on BBC’s Any Questions? last week that we shouldn’t make any changes to the student visa system because “this city makes billions of pounds a year out of selling further and higher education to people from abroad” and that in his view we will never pick up a bogus student visa claim at the border because Al-Qaeda are too good at forging passports and the individuals will instead enter the country as tourists!  Has this Government completely given up on making Britain’s borders more secure?

Whilst we let these people in, the Home Secretary has failed time and time again to deport those that threaten our security and our values.  In February, the House of Lords ruled that Jacqui Smith could deport radical cleric, Abu Qatada, only for him to launch a lengthy appeal at the European Court of Human Rights.  At the time she told us that the ruling paved the way for other outstanding deportations to take place.  Yet the Home Secretary recently admitted that there has since been no progress in the cases of thirty individuals residing in Britain whom successive Home Secretaries have been trying to deport for years.

In 2006, the police were given powers in the Terrorism Act to shut down extremist websites and yet the police have failed to close a single one.  Vile topics are discussed on these online forums, including one which prompted me to write to the Speaker of the House of Commons when it appeared that a plot was being formulated to target MPs whilst they travelled to and from their constituencies.  More must be done to ensure that radicalisation and terrorist communication on the internet is stamped out.

We must scrap Labour’s Human Rights Act and replace it with a British Bill of Rights so that a future Home Secretary can deport those considered to be a risk to national security.  As Shadow Home Secretary, Chris Grayling, has said, we need urgently to step up the monitoring of visa applications at our borders and we must quickly establish a dedicated Border Police Service so that our borders become secure.  We must start shutting down websites so that terrorists are deprived of one of their most powerful weapons and we simply must spend our finite counter terrorism budget on protecting this country’s citizens and its critical infrastructure, rather than cynically throwing money away and hoping that the problem will go away with it.

Only when we adopt radically different policies will the efforts of our armed forces fighting for our safety abroad be vindicated.  Only then will Britain stop being the soft touch that it has become.


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