Brown says Britain must stand firm with US in fight against terror

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Indy Politics

Gordon Brown has warned that the fight against terrorism will be undermined unless Europe and the United States avoid a repeat of the divisions between them over the Iraq war.

In the major speech of a prime minister-in-waiting that ranged well beyond his Treasury brief, Mr Brown announced plans to seize the assets of suspected terrorists for the first time by using classified information gathered by the intelligence services.

He also backed raising the 28-day limit for which terrorist suspects can be held without being charged. If he succeeds Tony Blair, he may seek to increase it in stages to 90 days, the option rejected by MPs last year.

His tough stance on security and pro-American line may disappoint Labour MPs hoping for a different approach when Mr Blair stands down next year. He told the Chatham House foreign affairs think-tank that there should be "no future for anti-Americanism in Europe" because of the shared values of the two continents.

"If Europe and America cannot come together with a clear and common message, and then together work more closely with all continents, then this weakness will in itself be a tacit encouragement to terrorism," he said. Mr Brown likened the war against terrorism to the fight against Communism after the Second World War, saying that a huge "cultural" effort was needed to win hearts and minds. He added that the cultural battle against al-Qa'ida's ideology had been "undervalued" in recent years.

The Chancellor also announced more measures to ensure there would be "no hiding place for those who finance terrorism". A new terrorism order will give the Treasury the power to stop funds reaching anyone in the UK suspected of planning terror attacks. Forensic accounting techniques would address three of the most dangerous sources of terrorist finance - charities, money service businesses and financial transactions.

On detaining suspects, Mr Brown said: "I believe that if the evidence shows it necessary to go beyond 28 days we should be prepared to do so." But any extension would have to be accompanied by safeguards to prevent it being abused. "Parliament should reassure itself that this oversight is working and improve it if necessary," he said. The independent reviewer of terrorism laws should also be given power to investigate and report on any detention beyond 28 days without charges being brought.

Liberty, the human rights group, expressed "grave concerns" about the plan, saying it "undermines the right to a prompt trial and could act as a recruitment tool for extremist groups". Shami Chakrabarti, its director, said: "Ninety days is equivalent to a six-month prison sentence without even being charged or tried. Terrorist recruiters will rub their hands with glee."

Sir Menzies Campbell, the Liberal Democrat leader, said: "The Chancellor is right to seek better ways to siphon off financial resources from terrorism. But he is wrong to believe that a longer detention time will be effective or acceptable."