New UK police powers took effect on Thursday that allow trained officers to stop, question, and, where necessary, detain and search individuals traveling through UK ports to determine involvement in hostile state activity.
The powers were introduced in Schedule 3 of the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act 2019. Hitherto, a police officer had to have reasonable suspicion of criminality to be able to detain individuals.
These powers were created in response to a 2018 nerve agent poisoning attack allegedly carried out by two Russian military intelligence agents against former MI6 double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury, England. While Russia denied involvement in the assassination attempt, the case led to the expulsion of 23 Russian diplomats, the biggest since the Cold War.
In a statement, Home Secretary Priti Patel said, “The threat to the UK from hostile state activity is growing and ever changing. … These new powers send a very clear message to those involved in it that this government has zero tolerance for those acting against British interests.” She also said that more efforts would be made and new legislation developed to tackle hostile state activity.
A Commons Defence Committee report also published on Thursday recommended the government thoroughly consider and assess the economic, diplomatic and military activities and internal political dynamics of states such as Russia and China, which “may utilise the pandemic to their advantage.”
The government had announced its plans in the Queen’s speech in December to undertake an Integrated Security, Defence and Foreign Policy Review, which is currently awaiting submissions of evidence.