LONDON: A row has broken out in the British cabinet after the UK’s deputy prime minister, Dominic Raab, blocked Home Office plans to reform the country’s 650-year-old treason laws.
Home Secretary Suella Braverman and Security Minister Tom Tugendhat had proposed new legislation that set out offenses for which extremists, hackers and other “malign” actors who swear allegiance to hostile foreign powers could be prosecuted, the Times revealed on Tuesday.
The plans were intended to make it easier to take legal action against British extremists such as Daesh bride Shamima Begum, and members of the so-called Daesh “Beatles” cell Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh.
Braverman and Tugendhat submitted to the cabinet their proposed changes as part of an amendment to the National Security Bill that is going through parliament. Home Office sources said relevant government departments and No. 10 had informally agreed to the plans before Rishi Sunak replaced Liz Truss as prime minister in October.
The plans were submitted for formal clearance through the cabinet’s “write-round” procedures, the final stage of the process, shortly after Sunak took office. By then, however, Raab had been appointed deputy PM, justice secretary and lord chancellor, and he objected to the changes to the treason legislation on the grounds that they did not make for good law, according to sources.
He therefore insisted that the Law Commission, an independent watchdog that reviews legislation in England and Wales, consider the changes. The commission has been asked to begin its review but this is a lengthy process and so any changes to existing laws are highly unlikely to be made before the next election, which is due to take place by January 2025.
“It’s a complete mess of a law and it needs tidying up but the ship has sailed now,” a government source said. “The Home Office had an amendment ready for the Commons report stage of the National Security Bill that would’ve helped strengthen our laws against those who would betray our country but the lord chancellor blocked it when he returned to government.”
Sources close to Raab said the changes proposed by the Home Office had not been drawn up properly and would have failed to solve “real-world” problems. One source accused Tugendhat of “political posturing” in an attempt to make himself “look tough” but his plans had no “practical law enforcement value.”
A source from the Ministry of Justice said that there is 670 years of “complex law to unravel” in relation to the proposed amendment, which is why the government agreed to consult the Law Commission.
“Rushing something through isn’t the right thing to do,” the source said.