Thursday August 3, 2023
Since my an hour and a half long interrogation at Gatwick Airport last October, there have been a number of developments which only serve to reinforce my initial reaction, which is that Britain and Europe are sliding into totalitarianism.
First, I am not the only political commentator to have been treated in this way. My friend Vanessa Beeley was, as I now learn, also subjected to the same treatment, in 2021, as was Kit Klarenberg of The Gray Zone in May. Both Vanessa and Kit are British, like me, and yet we have been treated under legislation (the 2019 Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act) designed to prevent hostile persons entering British territory. The unspoken implication is that these supposedly hostile actors are not British citizens, whence the fact that the legislation applies only at points of entry into the UK.
But the fact that the legislation creates a special legal regime which is in force only at borders, where normal rights are suspended, only emphasises the fact that this legislation creates lawlessness – a point I made in my first article on the subject. It would not be possible to seize our computers and detain us in this way anywhere else on British territory. Yet special regimes are the very opposite of the rule of law: as the seminal English constitutionalist, A. V. Dicey, defined it, "We mean [by the rule of law], in the first place, that no man is punishable or can be made to suffer in body or goods except for a distinct breach of law established in the ordinary legal manner before the ordinary courts of the land.” (my emphasis).
Second, the seizure and retention of the material copied from my computer (of which I was deprived for three weeks, even though I depend on it every day for my work) was reviewed by two judges six months after the event. This delay was itself a serious procedural infraction: the police are supposed to apply within seven days, not six months, for the right to keep such material.