With permission, Mr Deputy Speaker, I would like to make a statement regarding the UK terrorism threat level. The UK faces a serious and enduring threat from terrorism. Recent events in France and Vienna have provided a stark and brutal reminder of the risks that we face and the continuing need to be resolute in the face of those who would wish to sow division and hatred. This Government are committed to tacking terrorism in all its forms and to supporting our friends, partners and allies against those who would do us harm. We stand shoulder to shoulder with the people of France and Austria at this time of hurt and pain. Our thoughts are with the bereaved and all those who mourn the loss of loved ones. We have made formal offers of support to their Governments and underlined our shared resolve to stand together in solidarity against the extremists who despise our liberal values and our very way of life.
Since March 2017, UK police and security services have foiled 27 plots, including eight motivated by right-wing ideologies. The threat level system is designed to give a broad indication of the likelihood of a terrorist attack. It is a tool used by security practitioners working across different sectors and used by the police to determine the level of their overall protective security activity. It is also an important way of keeping the public informed about the threat from terrorism and to provide the context to understand why security measures are in place.
The Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre, JTAC, is responsible for setting the threat level to the UK from terrorism. JTAC operates independently of Ministers and keeps the threat level under constant review. It is based on the latest intelligence from our world-leading intelligence agencies and from our allies around the globe and considers factors including capability, intent and timescale. JTAC took the decision on Tuesday to change the UK threat level from international terrorism from “substantial”, meaning an attack is likely, to “severe”, meaning an attack is highly likely. JTAC keeps the threat level under review based on the very latest intelligence and taking into account international events. The recent terrorist attacks in France and Monday night’s attack in Vienna suggest that the temperature of the threat in Europe is rising.
I should stress that this change in the threat level is a precautionary measure and is not based on any specific threat. However, there is a risk that the recent attacks in France and Austria could have a galvanising effect in other parts of Europe, including the UK, and the change of threat level is therefore seen as prudent. We know that these incidents can be exploited by those who want to further their own cause, especially on online platforms. I am pleased to note that communities from across the UK stand together in uniformly condemning the attacks in Vienna and France. In particular, they stress that places of worship should never be targets for violence, and that religion should not be used to justify murder.
The national terrorism threat level takes account of the threat from all forms of terrorism, including—but not only—Islamist and right-wing terrorism and Northern Ireland-related terrorism in Great Britain. A separate threat level for Northern Ireland-related terrorism in Northern Ireland is set by the Security Service, MI5, and remains at “severe”. When JTAC’s assessment of the threat changes, it is important that it is communicated as quickly as possible to ensure that those who rely on it to inform their decision making and planning can do so.
Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu has confirmed that the police have activated their established planning mechanisms following the change in threat level, and the public will see additional police officers deployed to certain places over the coming days. Our counter-terrorism strategy, Contest, sets out how the Government will confront all forms of terrorism. It aims to reduce the risk to the UK and its citizens and interests overseas from terrorism, so that our people can go about their lives freely and with confidence. Already, the Government have taken steps to ensure that counter-terrorism policing and the Security Service have the necessary tools and powers to keep us all safe from the threat from terrorism.
In response to the horrific Fishmongers’ Hall and Streatham attacks, the Government acted swiftly by passing emergency legislation, the Terrorist Offenders (Restriction of Early Release) Act 2020, to end the automatic release of terrorist and terrorism-connected offenders. The Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Bill is currently being debated by Parliament. It will improve protections for the public by strengthening every stage in the process of dealing with terrorist offenders. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the police, security and emergency services, who show such resilience, courage and professionalism when responding to terrorist incidents, both in the immediate aftermath and in the investigations that follow. They put themselves in harm’s way to protect us, and we should never forget their service in keeping us all safe. Their skill and dedication is why we constantly invest in our security and intelligence agencies, to help ensure that they have the resources they need to deal with the threats we face.
We also continue to challenge ourselves as to what more we should do. The public inquiry into the Manchester Arena attack is currently taking evidence. I know that this is a difficult and painful time for many people. The inquiry is rightly examining the events of that terrible night so that those who survived and those who lost loved ones can get the answers they need, and so that we learn and apply the lessons, whatever they may be.
Finally, at this time, I urge the public to remain vigilant. We should be alert but not alarmed, and any suspicious or concerning behaviour should be reported to the police. Those responsible for these attacks want to change our very way of life. Our clear message to them is that our values, our freedoms and our principles are what make us strong, and that they will never succeed. I commend this statement to the House.