UK introduces new police powers to tackle state-backed interference

The government has introduced new powers, which come into effect today, for police to tackle state interference in the UK. These powers will allow specially trained police officers to stop, question, and when necessary detain and search individuals travelling through UK ports to determine whether they are involved in hostile state activity.

The new Schedule 3 powers were introduced in the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act 2019 and created in response to the 2018 Salisbury nerve-agent attack. In the Salisbury attack, Russian state actors poisoned Sergei and Yulia Skripal along with several members of the public with a nerve agent, before fleeing to Russia. 

Home Secretary Priti Patel said:

The threat posed to the UK from hostile state activity is growing and ever changing.

These new powers send a very clear message to those involved in it that this government has zero tolerance for those acting against British interests.

But I am clear more must be done and we are developing new legislation to bring our laws up to date and create new ones to stay ahead of the threat.

Following parliamentary approval, the powers have today come into effect and the police will now start bringing them into operation. The government has published an accompanying code of practice setting out the processes governing how these powers should be used and overseen. 

This code of practice includes oversight by the Investigatory Powers Commissioner, and provides special protections for confidential material and journalistic sources.

Last year, the government announced in the Queen’s speech plans to introduce new legislation to provide the security services and law enforcement agencies with the tools they need to tackle the evolving threat of hostile activity by foreign states.

This includes considering whether to follow allies in adopting a form of foreign agent registration, updating the Official Secrets Acts, as well as the case for updating treason laws.