Nick Clegg had a stab at being René Magritte on the Today programme this morning, telling us that a disagreement between the two coalition parties over anti-terror measures that were sort-of announced yesterday was ‘not some argument between two political parties’. It was clear from the way the Deputy Prime Minister described the additional measures for TPIMs that the Lib Dems accepted David Anderson’s demand that the government do more, but that only the first option, the expansion of exclusion zones, is something that will wash. Relocation powers, the key power removed from control orders when the Coalition scrapped them, would prove far more controversial, even though the Tories are clearly happy to keep an open mind on introducing these if necessary. Clegg said:
‘Moving people against their will from one part of the country to another when you cant prosecute in court is of course a big step. And that’s why we’re looking within government to see whether you can maximise and build upon existing powers in TPIMs which is all about excluding people from particular areas, but there’s no debate or dispute about the central observation that David Anderson has made, which is that TPIMs, to be effective, we need in one way or another, to do more to disrupt the patterns of association that people subject to TPIMs have with other individuals.’
Elsewhere the two parties are both trying to work out what they could do that is legal to stop people returning. ‘At the moment it is not obvious what we can do that is consistent with our legal obligations,’ Clegg said.
So the overall impression of David Cameron’s big statement yesterday, which he built up by holding that Downing Street press conference, was that the government either can’t agree on or isn’t sure what it can do to really clamp down on terrorists returning from abroad. That isn’t quite fair, given he did announce powers on seeing passports at the border temporarily so police could investigate someone, draft legislation that can be deployed if an ongoing legal challenge against current royal prerogative powers succeeds, and an ultimatum to airlines to hand over details of passengers or be banned from landing.
But there is still significant detail to be fleshed out, and the argument that isn’t an argument between the two parties may well rear its head and become a real, undeniable row if it turns out that relocation powers are absolutely necessary for TPIMs and the Lib Dems continue to dig their heels in.