The Third Leader: Right the first time

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The Independent Online

Even the Prime Minister's own security minister does not believe there is a case for extending the period for which terror suspects can be held by the police without charge. Of course, Admiral Lord West changed his tune pretty sharpish when called into Downing Street after his BBC radio interview yesterday morning. An hour later, he was parroting the Government position that an extension would indeed be necessary.

But there can be no doubt that Lord West let the cat out of the bag on the Today programme. The former head of the Royal Navy declared: "I want to have absolute evidence that we actually need longer than 28 days ... I want to be totally convinced because I am not going to go and push for something that actually affects the liberty of the individual unless there is a real necessity." We could not have put it better ourselves. There is no evidence that the police are being constrained by the present detention time limit in their counter-terrorism operations. The only justification offered by the Government amounts to vague speculation about what might happen in the future.

Lord West's frank speaking yesterday also serves to highlight the crude political calculations that lie behind this affair. It is becoming increasingly clear that there is no real consensus within the Government on this proposal. Rather, it is being driven through by Gordon Brown to put pressure on the main opposition parties, which both reject extending internment.

Lord West deserves our thanks for helping to expose the folly of this dangerous and illiberal proposal. But the question we need to ask now is: if Mr Brown refuses to respect the reservations of his own counter-terrorism adviser on internment, whose will he respect?