LONDON: Prime Minister David Cameron Monday announced plans to strip suspected Islamist militants of their passports temporarily, to combat the threat posed by radicalized Britons returning from Syria and Iraq.
The proposals come days after Cameron raised Britain’s terrorism alert to its second-highest level, saying ISIS militants in Syria and Iraq posed the country’s greatest-ever security risk.
An ISIS video released last month, purporting to show a man with a London accent man beheading a U.S. journalist, led to concern that Britons fighting in the region could return and launch attacks on British soil.
“We have all been shocked and sickened by the barbarism we have witnessed in Iraq this summer,” Cameron told parliament.
“There are two key areas where we need to strengthen our powers to fill specific gaps in our armory. These are around preventing suspects from traveling and dealing decisively with those already here who pose a risk.”
Cameron said he would bring in new “specific and targeted legislation” to give the police powers to temporarily seize a suspect’s passport at the border to give authorities time to investigate them.
Currently only Britain’s interior minister has the power to withdraw a passport.
He also said the government would consult on a discretionary power to prevent Britons from returning home if they have pledged allegiance to extremist causes. This would extend existing powers which can only be applied to foreign nationals, naturalized citizens and those with dual nationalities.
Asked by an opposition Labour lawmaker whether he was open to the idea of joining the United States in direct military action, Cameron said that he would not “rule anything out.”
“A British government should act in the national interest ... to help keep our people safe and we should consider everything in the light of that,” he said, adding that if it became necessary to act quickly he would do so without first seeking authorization from parliament.
The package of security measures announced by Cameron has been subject to protracted negotiations in the two-party coalition government, with the junior partner Liberal Democrats wary of bringing in laws that could limit civil liberties.
Lawmakers immediately questioned the legality of some of the proposals. The government’s former top lawyer, Dominic Grieve, said he was concerned that British nationals could be prevented from returning to the country.
“Not only does it offend principles of international law, it actually would offend basic principles of our own common law as well,” Grieve said.