Iceland has been experiencing a major financial crisis this year which has seen unprecedented measures by its government. One of these measures has included a proposed loan from Russia worth €4 billion. This and other actions such as nationalisation of its major banks has invited international reactions including a move from Britain. A set of articles explains the situation.
Britain's anti-terror laws can be deployed for all sorts of ends — as Iceland has just discovered. Writes Connor Gearty for the Guardian.
The Guardian, 10th October 2008
Are we about to return to something akin to the Cold War of the 1970s? It might seem so from Gordon Brown's declaration last night that he is prepared to use the terrorism laws against Iceland, not to catch its fish but to seize the assets its companies have in Britain. Now it is true that with the collapse of Iceland's banking system, Britain's local councils, fire authorities, police services, charities and goodness knows who else are facing the loss of millions of pounds which had been invested (at the time, it probably seemed, rather judiciously) in high yield accounts. But Iceland's premier Geir Haarde is no Nordic Osama bin Laden, and bashing a country for messing up its economy is hardly on a par with the attack on the twin towers.
The Treasury has acted to freeze Iceland's Landsbanki's estimated £7bn of UK assets, in an order made under section 4 of the Anti-terrorism Crime and Security Act 2001, a piece of legislation hurriedly passed by an enervated parliament in the immediate aftermath of the September 11 attacks. This provision authorises an intervention of this sort if "action to the detriment of the United Kingdom's economy (or part of it) has been or is likely to be taken by a person or persons", with a further requirement being that such persons (whether a government or individuals) be external to the United Kingdom. Clearly there is nothing here about any prior requirement to designate Iceland as a terrorist state. As its name suggests, however, the 2001 statute was about a lot more than terrorism, though it was the fear of imminent attack that set the tone for discussion of the whole measure, thereby helping to push through powers that might otherwise have proved unpalatably over-broad and draconian - section 4, for example.
No doubt Haarde calmed down when all this was explained to him and he realised there was no immediate necessity to hide in one of his country's many deep caves (though he may have other reasons to do a runner, of course). But the whole episode is a reminder of just how perniciously broad ostensibly restrictive anti-terrorism laws can be, how quite different powers can be freeloaded through on their backs, how embedded in the law they can quickly become, and how unexpected can be their application. What will it be next: 42 days detention without charge for city bankers and various "fat-cats"? Now there's a novel way to get the public behind an unpopular government measure ...