So many issues in politics are clear-cut. Things are either right or wrong, they meet our principles or they don’t. But every so often something comes up that gives us real pause for thought.
London Mayor Boris Johnson recently called for tough new measure against “British Jihadists” — if “British Jihadist” is not a contradiction in terms. These people holding British passports are clearly “BINOs” — British in Name Only. On their own admission, their first loyalty is to their “Islamic State”, their “Caliphate”, not to Britain. In my view they are not British in any real sense. They are simply fanatical Islamists who happen through a quirk of history to hold British passports.
Many of our fellow-citizens — many members of UKIP — will applaud Boris’s approach. These terrorists represent a real risk to our security here at home, and surely the toughest measures against them are justified.
And yet, and yet….. I have a problem with one of Boris’s proposals: to reverse the burden of proof, so that anyone returning from Iraq and Syria would be presumed to be a Jihadist unless they could prove otherwise. He describes this as “a rebuttable presumption”. It’s an appealing idea, but it represents a threat to one of the fundamental principles of English Common Law, one of the vital freedoms that British men and women have enjoyed for generations.
Here in the UK we cherish habeus corpus, trial by jury — and the presumption of innocence. These are our fundamental rights. Yet they are already under threat, nibbled away at by anti-terror legislation, and also by the intrusion of European law. The European Arrest Warrant in particular drives a coach and horses through these principles, as far as those are concerned who are extradited under the EAW.
How can we on the one hand fight for the preservation of our traditional liberties, yet on the other hand give them up one by one in the face of external threats? And we can hardly call Boris’s idea “the thin end of the wedge”, because it’s by no means the first attempt to blunt those liberties. But it’s another step in the wrong direction. We in UKIP cannot be party to the dilution of the very rights we strive to protect.
Does that mean we can be soft on terror? Not at all.
What we should certainly be doing is withdrawing British passports from those who go on Jihad. The bleeding-hearts like Former Attorney General Dominic Grieve will complain that by making these people stateless, we are in breach of international law. But international law is not some obligatory code from a higher power — it is in effect a treaty or series of treaties into which we, as a sovereign nation, have chosen to enter into. And if such treaties and agreements become inappropriate in new circumstances, we can simply withdraw from them (as we should withdraw from the EU treaties).
“Making them stateless” is particularly apt with regard to these Jihadists. They have chosen of their own free will to transfer their allegiance from Britain (if indeed they ever owed Britain any allegiance) to their Islamic State, their Caliphate. In their eyes, they are not stateless at all, but the first citizens of a ew Islamic state. Very well. Let them apply to that state for a passport, and see how they get on. Poetic justice. Making the punishment fit the crime, as W.S. Gilbert put it. They can go to the war zone, but they should never come back.
We need to reintroduce control orders and proper surveillance of terrorist suspects who may represent a threat to the British public.
Our police and security authorities should be rigorous in investigating those who seek to go to Iraq, and any who seek to return. We can — we must — be tough on terrorism and ruthless in dealing with it. But we must do so without abrogating the fundamental freedoms we cherish.