The State Opening of Parliament took place in the UK yesterday. The focus of this event is the Queen’s Speech (full text here). This is important because it unveils the list of laws for which the government will seek Parliamentary approval over the coming year and provides a snapshot of the government’s policy priorities. Highlights of the Speech, from a national security perspective (with quotations in bold), are as follows:
- “Measures will also be brought forward to promote social cohesion and protect people by tackling extremism. New legislation will modernise the law on communications data…” An indication of the content of these measures can be gleaned from the Conservative Party manifesto: summarized in my earlier post. As I noted there, there is an obvious and unresolved tension between the proposed measures (e.g., “Banning Orders” and “Extremism Disruption Orders”) and the rights to freedom of speech and freedom of thought. Whether the government’s proposals will satisfactorily address this tension remains to be seen (of note, in this regard, is the recent comment by Mak Chisty, Britain’s most senior Muslim police officer, advocating “a move into the private space” of Muslims to combat extremism). The scope of the proposed legislation on communications data also remains unclear although there are reports that it has been widened this week to include strengthening the powers of the security services.
- “My government will bring forward proposals for a British Bill of Rights.” This is a notable watering-down of the position in the Conservative Party manifesto, which promised to “scrap” the Human Rights Act 1998 and replace it with a British Bill of Rights that will “stop terrorists and other serious foreign criminals who pose a threat to our society from using spurious human rights arguments to prevent deportation.” The fact that the government has (for the coming year at least) diluted the manifesto commitment is unsurprising, given the controversy that this proposal has attracted, including within the Conservative Party itself (see, for example, here and here).
- “My government will renegotiate the United Kingdom’s relationship with the European Union and pursue reform of the European Union for the benefit of all member states. Alongside this, early legislation will be introduced to provide for an in-out referendum on membership of the European Union before the end of 2017.” In general terms, this is the most significant proposal in the Queen’s Speech, given its potential to change the UK’s relationship with the EU. However, the proposal has specific national security implications too given, for example, the role that the EU plays in imposing sanctions on individuals suspected of terrorism and terrorism-related activities. If the UK leaves the EU then a future government may be disinclined to impose such counter-terrorism measures or a future government may try to adopt similar measures unfettered by the legal/human rights constraints presently applied by the European Court of Justice.