Thursday, June 12, 2008

Did England repeal Magna Carta on Wednesday?

A measure narrowly passed Britain's House of Commons on Wednesday which would, at least under certain circumstances, allow civil authorities to detain terror suspects for up to 42 days (up from 28) without bringing charges of any kind.

Here's a link to the story as I heard it this morning on NPR (not that I could get the link to work, you understand, but you may fare better). The Reuters account of the vote may be found at this link; here is a link to coverage from the BBC.

Thirty six Labor MPs deserted their party in this vote (very unusual in British politics) including a number of former government ministers. The slim margin of the government's victory was provided by an apparently last-minute decision of the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist MPs (Ian Paisley's bunch) to back the measure. Prime Minister Gordon Brown was obliged to deny any "deals" with the Irish group -- but there have been reports that extra cash was offered for projects dear to the Ulster MPs in order to obtain their assent.

Britain's Conservative Party opposed the measure, but the Shadow Home Secretary, Mr. David Davis, was apparently unimpressed with the degree of his own party's opposition. The Times of London reports that Davis chose to resign his post in the Shadow Government and his seat in Parliament in protest. From David Byers' article in the Times:
In his statement, Mr Davis said he wanted to force a by-election in which he intended to stand on a single-issue – to stop the "slow strangulation of fundamental British freedoms" by the Government, including the introduction of ID cards and the extension of detention without trial for terrorist suspects.

"This Sunday is the anniversary of Magna Carta, a document that guarantees the fundamental element of British freedom, habeas corpus. The right not to be imprisoned by the state without charge or reason," he said. "But yesterday this house allowed the state to lock up potentially innocent citizens for up to six weeks without charge."
It is interesting to note that Tory opposition to the measure was not entirely unanimous. According to the BBC, one Conservative broke ranks and voted with the Government, namely, "former Home Office minister Ann Widdecombe."

The BBC provides time-stamped 'highlights' of the debate and vote. It quotes Home Secretary Jacqui Smith as saying "she cannot 'wish away the threat' of those whose sole aim is to 'blow away our citizens'.... She asks MPs to 'do the right thing to protect our people'."

Under the guise of fighting "terror," a supposedly left-wing government has sought to further curtail personal liberties. Thus we see that the enemies of personal liberty are not just among the Right, as some people here in America seem to think. (I'm not sure that either the Republicans or the Democrats here are sufficiently supportive of civil liberties.) For my part, if "protection" from terrorists must be purchased at the cost of our my civil rights, I'll take my chances with bin Laden, please.


Jean-Luc Picard said...

This has caused a real stir here in Britain. Brown had got a tiny minority party to vote with him in rerturn for certain favours.

landgirl said...

Cur, I am glad to see you wtiting about this because much of the debate over here-sadly--has been focused on tactics and strategy. Media hyped it as a test of Gordon Brown's leadership rather than looking at the broader issues of civil liberties.

Calling the anti-terror a "War" resonates over here with folks who made special efforts during the war(s). The only problem is that this is a war that will never end, so the "special precautions" are never going to go away. It is a terrible extension of state power and a dangerous temptation to abuse.