“Brexit means Brexit”, “Strong and Stable”, and “Coalition of Chaos” are only but a few of the slogans that Theresa May used throughout the General Election campaign. Following the recent, horrendous terrorist attacks in Manchester and London Bridge, the Prime Minister has now coined another set of slogans. As the May stood on the steps of N10 Downing Street the morning after the London Bridge attack, she forcefully spoke about the need for change, not only with regards to the government’s counter-terrorism strategy but also to the tolerance of our society towards extremism. In doing so, she famously claimed that “enough is enough”, and that “terrorism breeds terrorism”.
In the face of these attacks and the five successfully foiled plots over the past three months, the Prime Minister’s response no doubt seems like an extremely appropriate one. Having said this, there is a great deal of uncertainty regarding what action she will take in an attempt to reduce the threat of terror. She can all too easily make things worse. It has become clear that Mrs. May has resorted to criticising social media companies like Facebook and Twitter, for not doing enough to remove hate speech and extremist material, straying into the perpetual debate on civil liberties and internet freedom. On the steps of 10 Downing Street, she stated that the London Bridge attack was a product of Islamic extremism and that “we cannot allow this ideology the safe space it needs to breed. Yet that is precisely what the internet, and the big companies that provide internet-based services, provide”. In a similar vein to Trump’s assault on the media on the other side of the Atlantic, this attack on major internet-based services is being used as a scapegoat. Theresa May is taking the ‘blame the internet’ approach, playing on the fact that few in society have a detailed understanding of the role of encryption and privacy on the internet. It is becoming the norm that whenever there is a terrorist attack, the government lashes out at social media sites who as a result, improve their methods for removing extremist content, and we wait for the next attack. Blaming the internet is just not good enough and is neither preventing nor stopping an attack from taking place. It is lazy politicking by May and her government, focusing on the internet when many would question the 1,300 decrease in armed police numbers over the past seven years.
Only a few days before last Thursday’s general election, the Prime Minister vowed to rip up human rights laws that she claimed restricted the British government from halting the tide of terrorism. This concept received a huge amount of criticism from across the political divide, with Sir Keir Starmer QC, Labour’s shadow Brexit secretary, accusing the Prime Minister of a “diversion” from criticism of cutting 20,000 police officers during her time as Home Secretary. Starmer claimed that there is nothing in the Human Rights Act that prevents the government from “effectively tackling terrorism”. He went on to say that during his time as Director of Public Prosecutions he “worked very closely with the security and intelligence services and we prosecuted very, very serious criminals. The Human Rights Act did not get in the way of what we were doing. This is a diversion.” Taking this account at face value, it is evident that May’s attack on the internet was only to deflect attention from the criticisms of her role as Home Secretary under David Cameron. Also wading into the debate on terror, former Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg claimed that “none of this posturing about human rights is about keeping us safe” and that it was “very cynical” of Mrs May to say so.
So what can be done? With less than a fortnight left until the Brexit negotiations begin, it is absolutely vital that the British government keeps access to Europol, even if this means that Britain must accept the rulings of the European Court of Justice. Moreover, Theresa May suggested that the UK needs to work with “allied democratic governments” in the wake of an increase threat of terrorism to western Europe. However, is it not the undemocratic countries like Saudi Arabia where work needs to begin? Mrs May says “enough is enough” so will the United Kingdom stop selling arms to Saudi Arabia? Only time will tell.