3.15pm update

Britain facing 'most sustained threat since WWII', says Reid

This article was first published on guardian.co.uk on Wednesday August 09 2006. It was last updated at 15:18 on August 09 2006.
Britain is living through its most threatening time since the second world war, John Reid, the home secretary, warned today.

In a speech to Demos, a London thinktank, the hyperactive home secretary - who will mark 100 days in the job this Friday - confirmed that a terrorist attack on the UK was "highly likely", as signalled by the current "severe" warning on official government websites.

He also called for a "Darwinian" approach to the legal system, saying that it must be "responsive to change" in order to protect the nation against terrorism.

Mr Reid said: "It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change."

He complained that as home secretary he was "in a very difficult position", unable to always prosecute individuals due to the difficulty of obtaining "sufficiently cogent admissible evidence for a criminal trial", while facing legal bars against deporting or detaining them.

He warned: "Sometimes we may have to modify some of our own freedoms in the short term in order to prevent their misuse by those who oppose our fundamental values and would destroy all of our freedoms."

Although the speech broke no new ground in terms of concrete policy, Mr Reid repeated previous government assurances that the security services had already foiled four known terror plots against the country - but quoted Donald Rumsfeld, the US defence secretary, by saying that there were "known unknown and unknown unknown" terror plots.

Mr Reid also pointed out that European-wide human rights - such as freedom from detention, forced labour, torture and punishment without trial - had been formulated in the wake of state fascism, but were now threatened by what he dubbed "fascist individuals".

The heavily-trailed speech also called for a national debate on immigration levels - something the Labour party heavily attacked Michael Howard for demanding at the last general election.

In his address to Demos, Mr Reid called on the public, especially ethnic minority communities, to help the police and intelligence services track potential terrorists, saying that the professionals alone cannot "100% guarantee" to defeat the threat.

The home secretary said that the end of the cold war had been accompanied by the "reach and impact" of organised crime and international terrorism.

"We are probably in the most sustained period of severe threat since the end of World War II.

"While I am confident that the security services and police will deliver 100% effort and 100% dedication, they cannot guarantee 100% success.

"Our security forces and the apparatus of the state provide a very necessary condition for defeating terrorism but can never be sufficient to do so on their own. Our common security will only be assured by a common effort from all sections of society."

As leaked to the weekend papers, Mr Reid also said that mass migration in a globalised world was the "greatest challenge facing European governments".

While the mass movement of people provided the potential for greater wealth and opportunity, it also brought insecurity into the heart of communities, he claimed.

The home secretary said that the cold war "froze" the world into a static state in which migration was minimal, ethnic and religious tensions suppressed and national borders inviolable.

Twenty years after its end, Britons were now faced with a world in which insecurity had become "one of the highest concerns of daily living".

"That momentous scale of transition from static to mobile populations makes mass migration and the management of immigration the greatest challenge facing European governments, in my view," he said.

The speech came a week after the court of appeal said that control orders used to restrain the movements of six terror suspects broke human rights laws.

The court of appeal judges did not quash the system of control orders, which are used to restrain terror suspects where there is not enough evidence to prosecute them.

But they said that the orders applied to six suspects were so stringent that they broke European laws outlawing indefinite detention without trial.

Mr Reid has now issued new orders against the men which shorten their curfews from 18 hours to 14 hours a day and relax restrictions on who they are allowed to meet.

But he said that the orders were now not as restrictive as the security services believed necessary.

The Conservatives would still like to see a US-style minister for "homeland security" while both the Tories and the Liberal Democrats have urged the government to allow phone tap evidence in terrorist trials.

The Liberal Democrats queried whether the government's existing counter-terrorism strategies were actually "encouraging rather than undermining co-operation" with all communities.

The shadow home secretary, David Davis, complained: "[The government] should now answer our calls to establish a dedicated UK border police force to secure our borders and to appoint a dedicated minister for counter-terrorism."

Commenting after Mr Reid said it was not racist to talk about immigration, Mr Davis added: "The home secretary cannot simply blame the end of the cold war for the chaos and confusion in the asylum and immigration system. It is his government's policies that have lead to it being overwhelmed."

This article was first published on guardian.co.uk on Wednesday August 09 2006. It was last updated at 15:18 on August 09 2006.

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