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Europe must strengthen its external borders in the wake of the terror attacks in Paris on Friday evening, Britain’s home secretary Theresa May has said.
British security services have embarked on a big operation over the past two days in response to what security analysts have said is a significant shift in the tactics of Islamist militants Isis.
Screening checks at ports had been increased and there will be extra police at the borders and on the streets, Ms May said. The security services had been preparing for an urban attack similar to the events in Paris since the terror attacks in Mumbai in 2008, she said.
Ms May will chair a meeting of the government’s emergencies committee later on Sunday which will “be looking in part at lessons to be learned” from the French tragedy, she said.
About 700 British people have gone to fight in Syria, and as many as 450 are thought to have returned.
“In some cases it may be possible to prosecute people who have come back,” Ms May told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show.
But she played down the prospect of an early parliamentary vote on military action against the jihadis in Syria, saying the government would only seek a House of Commons vote “if there is a consensus to move forward”.
This in effect places the decision in the hands of the Labour party, whose leader Jeremy Corbyn has long been opposed to British military interventions in the Middle East.
Shadow justice secretary Lord Falconer — who was in Tony Blair’s cabinet when the 7/7 bombings hit London in 2005 — said the British government needed to seek “a plan that covers the whole of the Middle East and addresses Syria” but this “cannot be done without a major international effort that needs to be thought-out in a way that convinces the people of Britain”.
“It is really important we seek some degree of unity on this,” he said. “We have got to work together as a nation.”
Labour will consider a new Syria vote if the government has a comprehensive plan, shadow foreign secretary Hilary Benn said.
Mr Benn told Sky News that it was not possible “to defeat Isil [Isis] in Syria just by dropping bombs”.
The international community needed to first seek a peaceful solution to the civil war in Syria, which was creating a “vacuum” in which Isis was “thriving”, he argued.
It was up to the Conservative government to bring forward proposals that would “command the support of the House”, Mr Benn said.
Lord Carlile — a Liberal Democrat peer and the government’s former independent terrorism legislation reviewer — called on Ms May to fast-track planned surveillance legislation in response to the Paris attacks.
The Investigatory Powers Bill should be “expedited”, he told the Mail on Sunday newspaper.
The Bill, which has been dubbed a “snooper’s charter”, was necessary to prevent acts of terrorism, British security forces have argued.
Among its most contentious powers is the requirement for UK tech companies to keep internet records for up to a year. Privacy campaigners and tech businesses have expressed doubt about the range of powers the government is seeking to acquire. But when introducing the legislation to the Commons earlier this month Ms May insisted that it included some concessions to its critics.
Mr Benn said Labour supported the Investigatory Powers Bill, although it had some concerns over judicial oversight of the powers to be given to the security forces.
Sylvie Bermann, France’s ambassador to the UK, said it was “obvious” that Europe needed to strengthen its external borders.
“It is really a war because they are trying to kill us,” she said. “We have already prevented a lot of attacks but it can’t be 100 per cent.”