From the archives:
The Observer 7 August 2005
Banging the table with a frustrated fist, as the Home Secretary and his two startled opposition counterparts looked on, [Tony Blair] was demanding to know 'why the f***' it was so impossible to rewrite human rights legislation to allow decisive action against a terrorist threat. 'He just kept saying, "Why can't we do this?" and looking at his officials for answers,' says one source from the meeting. 'And they were just shrugging their shoulders.'Now, once again, we are told that lawyers, judges and civil rights defenders have it wrong.
By the time the meeting broke up, Blair appeared no nearer getting his answer. But those closer to him could have predicted how it would end.
Last Friday [5 August 2005] the Prime Minister decisively got his way, sweeping aside not just the caveats of his officials — plus those of his own wife, who warned last month that it was easy to respond to terror in a way that 'cheapens our right to call ourselves a civilised nation' — but the amour propre of his Home Secretary [Charles Clarke].
Hijacking at the last minute what had been planned as a much lower-key, less detailed announcement by the Home Office minister Hazel Blears, Blair last Friday unveiled a package that profoundly changed the terms of the domestic war on terror. Not only would foreign-born preachers of hate now be deported, as Clarke had already suggested, but Britain would, if necessary, rewrite the Human Rights Act to do it — a personal victory for Blair.
Other draconian measures, from closing mosques suspected of extremism, to house arrest for suspect British nationals, shattered the uneasy cross-party consensus formed after the 7 July bombings. It was the first that opposition MPs — told by Clarke they would be consulted every step of the way — had heard of much of it.
Over the past five or six years, we have decided as a country that except in the most limited of ways, the threat to our public safety does not justify changing radically the legal basis on which we confront this extremism. [The] right [of British nationals who pose a threat to us] to traditional civil liberties comes first. I believe this is a dangerous misjudgment.Which raises the question, if the Criminal Justice Act, or the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, weren't "radical" — what on earth would be? Note that Mr Blair refers to "traditional civil liberties", not to those created by ECHR or other EU-inspired legislation. So presumably it is those which are for the chop, rather than (e.g.) the right not to be deported if you are a foreign criminal.
And it's worth considering the light that this:
It was the first that opposition MPs — told by Clarke they would be consulted every step of the way — had heard of much of it.sheds on the contemporary meaningfulness of "consultation" or "openness".
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