Scope creep


We have a long and dishonorable history in my country of introducing temporary legislation for a particular situation, then allowing it to become both permanent and general despite the eventual amelioration of the situation that it was intended to address.

The classic example has always been our ridiculous alcohol licensing laws, which confuse overseas visitors so much (with good reason). These were brought in as a purely temporary measure during the First World War to ensure attendance at munitions factories at a time of national crisis. We also have these “temporary” laws to thank for our stupid British Summer Time upheaval twice a year. Thanks, but my Realm doesn’t need Defending against the Germans so much any more. Can we repeal these temporary measures now?

Thus, it was inevitable that the UK anti-terror legislation brought in during the panic after New York’s World Trade Centre was destroyed in 2001 would both outlast the situation and be used for purposes not strictly to do with combating the terrorist threat.

A cynic might say this was planned all along, and the public mood since 2001 has been used as an opportunity to bring in a series of oppressive laws under the guise of defending the nation (again). Many people have said exactly this but I was reserving judgement until there was clear evidence one way or the other.

Yesterday provided that evidence.

The UK-held assets of an Icelandic bank were frozen to protect the interests of UK depositors when it became clear the the bank was in trouble. The legislation used was the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 that I linked to above.

The UK government’s motives may have been entirely sound and in our national interest, but the precedent has been set (if it hadn’t before). This is no longer anti-terrorism legislation, it is a fact of our lives and is here to stay. And it will be used for whatever purposes suits the government of the day.

Which, in case you hadn’t noticed, may well be formed by the Conservative Party after the next election. Now there’s a frightening thought.

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