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Former Defence Secretary Advocates for Laws Allowing Terrorist Apprehensions

Limitations in international law means Britain is unable to apprehend terrorist suspects in foreign countries.

Former UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has criticised laws preventing the UK from conducting raids abroad to apprehend terrorist suspects, labelling them as “lunacy.” 

Speaking to the Telegraph, Mr. Wallace highlighted the limitations imposed by international law, stating that missions leading to the rendition of suspects, involving their extrajudicial transfer between countries, are prohibited. 

Mr. Wallace, speaking publicly for the first time since leaving his Cabinet position, argued that these restrictions force the UK to resort to lethal actions against “enemies of Britain” rather than capturing them.

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He said: “When we have a threat to the UK, this lunacy of being unable to render people across borders or arrest people in countries whose police forces are unacceptable means that we are more often than not forced into taking lethal action than actually raiding and detaining.”

He expressed the desire for more options during his tenure as defence secretary, explaining that there were individuals posing imminent threats to the UK whom he would have preferred to capture rather than target with strikes.

He said: “If we had found Osama bin Laden, we could not have done what the Americans did. We did have the right to deal with an imminent threat. We could have thrown a tomahawk missile. If we’d done the American model, where they flew in by heli, I would currently be told you can’t do that because we can’t render them out of the country.”

ECHR Requirements Limit Options

Mr. Wallace highlighted the difficulties in obtaining host government permission and complying with European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) detention requirements.

He said: “If there was an ISIS plot in some Central African country for example, under international law we have the right to take action with or without permission from the host nation, but we couldn’t capture the bad guys–we could only kill them.”

However, Mr. Wallace refused to go so far as suggesting to “scrap the ECHR.”

Regarding the constraints of international human rights standards, Mr. Wallace remarked, “Unless the international human rights bandwagon recognizes the world we live in today is transnational … we’ll drive people to take more extreme measures.” 

He stressed the importance of updating human rights principles to address the current global landscape, advocating for trials before an independent judiciary and jury, saying: 

“If you care about human rights, then you need to update yourself, because otherwise the option is, they’re dead. Surely you want them to have a trial in front of an independent judiciary and jury?”

Last month, Home Secretary Suella Braverman dismissed calls from senior Tory backbenchers to leave the ECHR, over the blocking of the government’s Rwanda scheme to deport illegal migrants.

She said at the time: “It’s treading on the territory of national sovereignty. But no one’s talking about leaving the ECHR right now.”

Threats To British Security

Mr. Wallace also expressed concerns over the growth of safe havens for threats to British security, citing reduced options for addressing these threats. He noted challenges in using traditional methods, such as kinetic airstrikes and special forces operations, due to issues related to surrender and detention pathways.

Mr. Wallace warned of potential airspace restrictions by Russia in Syria and the resurgence of groups like al-Qaeda and Islamic State in Afghanistan. 

The former defence secretary called for a broader range of options for future defence secretaries and prime ministers to address safe spaces and ungoverned areas, which are currently limited.

He added, “How do you arrest people who are plotting, in an environment of tolerance by the host country, to do harm to Britain?”

Mr. Wallace announced his resignation from his former role in July, with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak appointing Grant Shapps as his replacement last month.

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