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Blair crackdown faces protests from MPs on all sides
Tony Blair's crackdown on extremism in Britain has already started to unravel amid a storm of protest from moderate Muslim groups and MPs.
Less than a day after he unveiled his sweeping 12-point anti-terror proposals, there was evidence of serious internal divisions over key elements. The Prime Minister said he was ready to amend the Human Rights Act in order to enable the deportation of foreign nationals who come to the UK to foment terrorism.
He also named two radical groups Hizb ut-Tahrir and al-Muhajiroun which are to be banned, and said he would consult on new powers to close mosques, bookshops and websites that are used to promote the terrorist cause.
But Muslim parliamentarians warned that the measures risked fuelling extremism. Shahid Malik, the MP for Dewsbury, said he was concerned that Mr Blair's proposal to ban Hizb ut-Tahrir would prove counter-productive. " It's going to be very difficult to ban because you are trying to ban an idea. We need to defeat that idea by argument. People are going to ask: why not ban the BNP?"
The question was echoed by Baroness Uddin, a Labour Muslim peer, who urged the Government to wait for a Commons vote before banning any organisation. " Whatever is done now must be done with full parliamentary legitimacy," she said.
Home Office officials say they were against the measure
to outlaw the group that expressly opposes the use of violence but were
over-ruled by Downing Street.
Charles Kennedy, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, said he feared crackdowns on preachers, mosques and groups could drive extremism underground.
"The Prime Minister talks about how the mood has changed. He is correct, " said Mr Kennedy. "But you can't just legislate by mood."
Even Michael Howard, who has said the Tories broadly support Mr Blair's measures, signalled unease yesterday.
Mr Blair was backed by Khalid Mahmood, the Muslim Labour MP for Perry Barr, Birmingham. "The first thing the Hizb ut-Tahrir website talks about is that it's there to bring the downfall of any democratically elected government," he said.
Mr Blair is also already preparing for the first confrontation with Britain's most senior judges. It is understood that ministers will authorise the first deportation to Jordan next month in a move that is bound to be subject to a court challenge.
But Gareth Peirce, one of Britain's most prominent human rights lawyers, said it would be immediately challenged in court.
The Government's "memoranda of understanding" with these countries not to use torture were legally worthless, she said.
"The very fact ministers are seeking these
assurances is an acknowledgement that torture is their modus operandi."