British Prime Minister Theresa May, grasping for an electoral victory on Thursday, believes she has hit on a winning proposition. Capitalizing on two recent terrorist attacks in Britain, she is asking the electorate to vote for her in the full knowledge that she will eviscerate their civil liberties in the fight against global terrorism.
Rather than combine robust law enforcement with a re-thinking of British foreign policy and an alliance with a community determined to remove the incentives for domestic terror, Theresa May is waging a war on civil liberties.
The Guardian reported that May wants to “restrict the freedom and the movements of terrorist suspects when we have enough evidence to know they present a threat, but not enough evidence to prosecute them full in court.” The chilling part came next: “If human rights laws stop us from doing it,” May declared, “we will change those laws so we can do it.”
The purpose of human rights laws, constitutional amendments, and other fundamentals in democracies, is that you don’t uproot and annihilate them without a second thought because it’s convenient and helps you to win an election.
May’s threat of war against what most Britons would identify as core national values also raises the question of what exactly she and her grotesque security state will be protecting Britons against. The terrorists she wants to combat using these means are people who work outside of the law, promote forms of violence that law finds abhorrent, and detest as supine and indolent civil and political rights.
May’s authoritarian state would be little better. Suspending laws, promoting greater state violence and penetration into daily life, and exhibiting contempt for the defining features of liberal democracy mean that ISIS and its enthusiasts have successfully initiated the transformation of an old democracy into an intellectual vassal state.
The Conservatives’ panicky, authoritarian, ill-considered response to terrorist attacks in Britain is positively Trump-ian, the kind of thing cooked up in the fevered brain of a beleaguered politician who is plagued by sleeplessness at 3 a.m. by the fear of losing an election and with it their credibility.
Rather than acting in the tradition of democratic states who recognize that guarding against authoritarianism needs constant self-scrutiny as well as the deployment of intelligence and law enforcement, May is joining a growing number of global leaders—in the U.S., Russia, Turkey, and beyond—in offering people physical security with one hand while gutting civil, political, social, and economic rights with the other.
I hope that British voters will reject what is a truly toxic deal.