by RAY FLEMING “THE main duty of any prime minister is to do everything possible to protect the security of our nation and its citizens.” Thus spake Tony Blair in the House of Commons on Wednesday and in an article in the Daily Telegraph yesterday. The statement is, of course, unexceptionable and he had no need to add in the article the snide comment, directed presumably at Michael Howard, that “I had hoped everyone, and certainly every responsible politician, would understand that this is more important than ever.” In another part of his article Mr Blair wrote that “There is no greater civil liberty than to live free from terrorist acts.” It is clear from these statements that the Prime Minister is worried enough about the opposition to his new Anti-Terrorism proposals to accuse those who criticise them of being neglectful of the nation's security and of the individual's civil liberty.

Let us be clear about the principle at stake: the Government is planning to do away with safeguards against arbitrary arrest and detention without trial that have been the bedrock of British justice and individual rights for 800 years. A minister, not a judge, is to be the person who will decide, on the basis of advice from the security services, whether an individual's liberty is to be taken from him indefinitely without any charge and without him knowing what evidence there is to justify the detention.

Although Mr Blair makes a strong case that the terrorist threat in Britain is greater than ever before he overlooks three things: the first is that all deprivations of freedom begin in a small and apparently necessary way; the second is that the security services, which support the new measures, are fallible; the third is that he himself cannot be trusted in matters of this kind in the light of the misleading reasons he gave for the war against Iraq.

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