Britain launches broad homeland defense plan

Published 15 November 2007

Gordon Brown offers details of new homeland defense initiative, increasing the security budget from £2.5 billion to £3.5 billion by 2011, placing emphasis on protecting venues where crowds gather; budget includes £400 million for fighting radicalization abroad

British prime minister Gordon Brown has revealed details of new security measures in a statement to Parliament yesterday. Speaking to MPs following the regular prime minister’s questions session, Brown said the government would focus on how to “root out terrrorism” and how to “strengthen communities” to prevent extremism gaining a foothold. A National Security Strategy will be published “in the next few weeks” and a Counter Terrorism Bill was also being drawn up, he said. The PM listed a number of measures to be taken to improve security in public places in light of Lord West’s report delivered to minister’s today. These include the construction of “robust barriers” and parking exclusion zones as well as upgrading the blast resistance of buildings such as train station, airports, hospitals, and sports venues. Plans also exist to provide detailed guidance to businesses, such as theaters and restaurants, and training for civilian staff from a team of 160 counterterrorism officers. The security budget will increase from £2.5 billion to £3.5 billion by 2011, the PM said. Brown stressed the importance of engaging with communities and vulnerable young people to counter “extremist influences.” The battle for “hearts and minds” will require action through schools, community, sports and faith groups across the country, he said. The PM also gave details of a new 25,000-strong Border Agency with the power to detain people on suspicion of criminal activity including terrorism.

In addition, Britain will boost security at stations, airports, and other potential targets to protect them against car bombings and counter a growing threat from Islamist militants. Britain would spend £400 million ($831 million) abroad on fighting radicalization. For the first time, Britain will sponsor events in Pakistan to counter extremist propaganda.

The measures announced yesterday follow a review of possible infrastructure weaknesses begun after the discovery of car bombs in London and an attack on Scotland’s Glasgow Airport in June. The Glasgow incident, in which a fuel-laden jeep was rammed into the entrance of the airport causing a huge fireball, was the most dramatic attack in Britain since four suicide bombers killed fifty-two people on London’s transport system on 7 July 2005. “The conclusion today of the review … identifies a need to step up physical protection against possible vehicle bomb attacks,” Brown said. “This will include, where judged necessary, improved security at railway stations … and at airport terminals, ports and over 100 sensitive installations”.

The measures come a week after Jonathan Evans, head of the MI5 domestic intelligence agency, warned the number of Islamists in Britain was growing. He said there were 2,000 people who posed a direct threat to national security, some as young as 15, and the agency suspected there were as many others as yet unknown.