Rights laws to be overhauled as Blair says 'the game has changed'

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Indy Politics

Tony Blair warned "the rules of the game are changing" as he announced the measures at a special press conference in Downing Street yesterday. He made it clear the measures marked a watershed for Britain's attitude to freedom of speech, which could affect our way of life forever.

"Coming to Britain is not a right and even when people have come here, staying here carries with it a duty," he said. "That duty is to share and support the values that sustain the British way of life. Those who break that duty and try to incite hatred or engage in violence against our country and its people have no place here."

But the tough measures threatened to break the cross-party consensus over the political response to the London bombings, while human rights campaigners warned the proposals could threaten "the fundamental values of democracy".

The Commons will be recalled for two days in September for an emergency debate, which the Prime Minister hopes will show a united front against the terrorists, and answer criticism that the MPs were away on holiday while Britain was at high alert.

New grounds for deportation, including fomenting or glorifying terrorism, published yesterday by Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, will make it easier for Britain to expel extremists. The grounds for deportation are being widened to allow the Mr Clarke to expel those involved in extremist websites, bookshops, centres and networks which recruit, train or incite terrorist attacks.

Powers are to be increased to allow the Government to vet Muslim clerics applying to come to this country to preach, and to close down mosques being used by extremists. Even those already naturalised as Britons could be stripped of their nationality and expelled, if they are found to be engaged in extremism.

Civil rights groups accused Mr Blair of "sowing the seeds of discord" and threatening the basis of democracy and freedom of speech. The Liberal Democrat leader, Charles Kennedy, said that there would be no rubber stamp for the measures in Parliament. Mr Blair admitted that he would have had trouble introducing some of the measures a few months ago, but that the bombings had changed the public mood in Britain. "To be frank, what has changed in the past four weeks since the attacks on 7 July is that people now understand that when we warned of the terrorist threat it is not mere rhetoric, it is real."

It could lead to the removal of many of the high-profile clerics and their followers who have been causing outrage by preaching hatred. Mr Blair said it would be "more than a handful", and it could lead to fresh efforts to extradite alleged terrorists who have been using Britain as a safe haven, including Algerians, who have been wanted by the French.

"I'm sorry, but people can't come here and abuse our good nature," he said. "They can't come here and start inciting young people here to kill British people. There is no point kidding ourselves about this problem in our communities. It is there and it has to be rooted out."

Officials said the new offences could not be retrospective, but inflammatory remarks made in the past could be used to deport known fanatics.

Mr Blair will directly challenge the courts to allow the deportation of extremist clerics who have used a judgment in the European Court of Human Rights in 1996 to resist being removed from this country. Under the Chahal case, the courts have upheld appeals by Muslim fundamentalists who claimed under Article 3 of the Human Rights Act that they should be allowed to stay in this country, because they could be tortured if they were returned to their home countries.

But Mr Blair said since the bombings in London, the Government could now insist that Article 2 of the HRA giving the right to life should override the rights of individuals not to be expelled. If the judges refuse to uphold this interpretation, Mr Blair said the Government would change the human rights legislation to force the courts to comply.