LONDON — Prime Minister Theresa May says she is willing to scrap citizens’ human rights if they “get in the way” of tackling terror suspects.
Speaking to Conservative Party activists in Slough, Berkshire, on Thursday night, May said she was prepared to rip up human rights laws if it will make it easier to deport foreign terror suspects and impose tougher controls on extremists who are deemed to pose a threat but cannot be prosecuted.
The prime minister’s intervention came after days of tough questioning from politicians and the press about how cuts to police numbers she made as Home Secretary have made it more difficult to protect Britain’s streets and uproot radicalisation at community-level.
It also came with less than 36 hours to go until Thursday’s general election, as the issue of whether May or instead Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn would be the best person to protect Britain’s national security takes centre stage.
“But I can tell you a few of the things I mean by that: I mean longer prison sentences for people convicted of terrorist offences. I mean making it easier for the authorities to deport foreign terror suspects to their own countries,” May said.
“And I mean doing more to restrict the freedom and the movements of terrorist suspects when we have enough evidence to know they present a threat, but not enough evidence to prosecute them in full in court.
“And if human rights laws stop us from doing it, we will change those laws so we can do it.”
The prime minister has also told The Sun newspaper that she would consider extending the period of time terror suspects could be held without charge from 14 days to 28. It was reduced to 14 under the Tory-led coalition in 2011.
“We said there may be circumstances where it is necessary to do this.
“I will listen to what they [the police and security services] think is necessary for us to do,” she said.
The body of human rights laws May is referring to is outlined in the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).
The Convention is an international treaty signed in 1953 designed to protect fundamental rights and freedoms in Europe. It is separate from European Union law and was established by a number of countries, including Britain, following the end of World War 2.
The Conservative Party manifesto states there will be no withdrawal from the EHCR during the next parliament, meaning May is probably hinting at “derogation”. This means suspending parts of the Convention in times of national emergency. France used their derogation powers in response to the November Paris terrorist attacks that killed 130.
Labour leader Corbyn told BBC Breakfast on Friday morning that “ripping up our basic rights and democracy” will not help Britain defeat terrorism.
“We will not defeat terrorism by ripping up our basic rights and democracy… but by our communities, our vigilance and by police action to isolate and detain those who would wish us harm,” he said, responding to May’s comments.
“What I don’t want is executive orders, where politicians can make decisions outside the law and decide what will happen to an individual.
“There has to be a judicial process,” Corbyn added. “If our democracy is under threat, you strengthen that democracy to deal with that threat.”
Labour MP Yvette Cooper accused the prime minister of using “anti-human rights rhetoric” for political advantage with the general election just hours away. “Whenever TMay [Theresa May] in trouble she whips out the old anti human rights rhetoric. Then says opposite later
#weakandwobbly” she tweeted.
Former Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg described the move as “very cynical” and “free from any evidence”.
The MP for Sheffield Hallam told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that “attacking the principles of human rights legislation is not the right way to keep us safe”.
He added that May has a “track record” of making “ludicrous claims” about how human rights laws impact Britain.
Hmm. Remember cat-gate? Whenever TMay in trouble she whips out the old anti human rights rhetoric. Then says opposite later #weakandwobbly https://t.co/7e7XlERWPw
— Yvette Cooper (@YvetteCooperMP) June 6, 2017
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