October 8, 2020 | 5 minutes read

The MI5 Bill: a strategy of impunity

This is a blatant attack on any and all campaigns for justice for the victims of British imperialism, and another key part of the new shoring up of the legal defences for illegal action. The supposed opposition party has, as always, failed to oppose, and instead decided to abstain.

The MI5 Bill: a strategy of impunity

The Labour Party abstained from a recent vote in the House of Commons which passed the second reading of the Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill. This Bill is a significant step forward in the government’s new strategy to create impunity for their agents - both old and new.

The CHIS(CC) Bill, sometimes called the MI5 Bill or License To Kill Bill although it is not limited exclusively to MI5 agents, makes it legal for “Covert Human Intelligence Sources” (snitches and undercover agents) to violate any and all laws in their work, if it is considered to be in the interests of the British State. We know that to mean: in the interests of the British ruling class. Both the government and the Labour Party have claimed that torture, murder and sexual violence will not be legalised by the bill because they are forbidden by the Human Rights Act however this ignores the many many times the HRA has been ignored, and the way in which the current government (and Labour) have both constantly criticised it, laying the groundwork for a potential future exit from such an act.

These powers will be disproportionately applied against the left and progressives, and most especially against Black and racially oppressed people. There are many precedents for this; of the over 1,000 organisations spied on by the British Police’s Special Demonstrations Squad only three were far-right. Undercover officers spied on the family of Stephen Lawrence, and committed rape by false pretences against women they met in activist groups, some of them going so far as to have children with these women, only to abandon them when it suited them. This bill provides the legal basis for such actions to resume - if they ever even stopped. But of course, such activities are only the tip of the iceberg. These powers are not only applied to “any police force”, but also to any of the intelligence services, all departments of the military, the Home Office, the Ministry of Justice, and many other branches of the British State.

In the occupied North of Ireland, the British State and its agents carried out terror campaigns with impunity, using front groups whose information, hit-lists and weapons flowed from the government. This bill will give the intelligence services the legal backing for such actions as these. As the UK joins the US in ramping up its anti-communist and pro-imperialist hybrid wars against Venezuela, China and other such countries, this bill frees intelligence agents from the possibility of prosecution or legal challenge. The fact that these laws apply even to HMRC and other “white-collar” departments means that the economic side of these hybrid wars could be intensified by illegal action. White collar agents could break the law under the flimsiest of justifications, without fear of prosecution, and help intensify economic struggle in the pursuit of British interests.

While British government agents have been breaking their own laws for centuries, from the attempted framing of Charles Parnell in the Victorian era to torture in Labour’s 21st century wars, this bill will explicitly prevent even liberal legal challenges to such practices. But why bring it in now?

The primary motivator identified by the bourgeois media is a legal challenge raised against MI5’s illegal activities which was only narrowly defeated, but there is a lot more to it than that. Within the last year it has been announced that there will be no further prosecutions made over Bloody Sunday and that only a single case of war crimes committed by British soldiers in Iraq is still being considered. The government has also been given the responsibility for a new investigation into the murder of Irish lawyer Pat Finucane, who was allegedly killed by, or with the aid of, British agents; an investigation they clearly do not want to undertake. The government has also passed the second reading of the Overseas Operations Bill, which is an attempt to prevent any war crimes committed earlier than 5 years previously from being prosecuted. It is a blatant attack on any and all campaigns for justice for the victims of British imperialism, and another key part of the new shoring up of the legal defences for illegal action. As new powers for search warrants are proposed by the National Crime Agency and the government becomes ever more fearful of burgeoning social movements, it is clear that the groundwork is being laid to prevent any legal or peaceful opposition to the impunity of British agents, no matter what horror they may commit.

But what of the Labour Party? Have they opposed the CHIS(CC) Bill or the Overseas Operations Act? This glaringly evil bill and this attempt to undermine justice for the victims of British war crimes? No, the supposed opposition party has, as always, failed to oppose, and instead decided to abstain. Once again, Keir Starmer and Labour have sided with the police rather than the people; just as Starmer did in his role as Chief Public Prosecutor when he ran show trials for Black children after the London riots, and declined to prosecute the murderers of Jean Charles de Menezes. Starmer is an obvious cop, and a uniformly terrible person, but the problem does not begin and end with him. Shadow Home Secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds, who taught Trump Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany, is the one who laid out Labour’s case for the bill. He has previously written biographies of Nye Bevan and Clement Attlee, and while the “Labour Left” may tell you that he clearly didn’t learn the lessons of those mythical socialists, the truth is that he learned their lessons very well.

Labour has always been an imperialist party. The post-war Socialist utopia of Bevan and Attlee never existed; it was an illusion created with wealth stolen from the Global South. As we have discussed previously the Labour Party governed over atrocities such as the Anti-British National Liberation War (or “Malay Emergency”) and granted tacit support to a swathe of client states and dictatorships in the Middle East and Africa. They also oversaw British entry into the genocidally anti-communist Korean War, in which this supposedly socialist nation sent troops to aid the US in their pursuit of slaughter against genuine socialists. The Labour Party is never your friend, nor the friend of any anti-imperialist movement. Not even under Jeremy Corbyn.

Corbyn may have made symbolic gestures towards anti-racism and internationalism. He even voted against these recent bills (he must have known that there was no chance his vote would have an impact, but nonetheless). But as materialists we cannot judge politicians by what they say but instead we must judge them by what they do. So what did Corbyn do, when he had the leadership of the Party? His supposedly progressive Labour attacked the Conservative’s cuts to police so doggedly the Conservatives pledged to put more cops on the street, and then Labour pledged to hire 2,000 more than the Tories had, as though the solution to social ills is a truncheon and a pair of handcuffs. The Party’s Manifesto ignored their own conference’s vote to shut all immigration detention centres. Instead of pledging to end Stop and Search they pledged to make it “proportionate”; ignoring that there is no such thing as a proportional use of a racist power by a racist police. In the end even Corbyn’s Labour was a victim of their own role in society. They are a bourgeois party in an imperialist country, and so they can never pledge to defund, divest and abolish the police, or to end imperialism and build a country which is self-reliant instead of parasitically living off of the wealth of the oppressed world, because to do either of those things would represent the end of bourgeois society and imperialism; something reformist “socialists” throughout history have been unable to imagine, or to work towards.

The only way we can end British imperialism, combat the brutality of the government, and tear down the bourgeoisie state, is to build a genuinely proletarian party. This is the long, slow and hard work we are undertaking - but it is the only path forwards.