New Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson has been left isolated after calling for British jihadists to be hunted down and killed in the Middle East rather than allowed to return to the UK.
The Tory minister, who was promoted to the Cabinet by Theresa May last month, used a newspaper interview to declare “a dead terrorist can’t cause any harm to Britain”.
Mr Williamson also stated his view any Briton who has travelled to fight in Syria or Iraq shouldn’t ever be allowed to come home.
But the Defence Secretary’s bombastic language was notably unmatched by both Downing Street and Cabinet colleagues.
Mr Williamson was also branded “insecure” and “juvenile”, amid suggestions he risked encouraging war crimes by British troops.
Asked whether the Prime Minister backed Mr Williamson’s call, Theresa May’s official spokesman said: “The Government position on this has been made clear a number of times in recent months, which is that if you travel to Iraq and Syria and if you are fighting with our enemies there, then you make yourself a legitimate target.”
He also highlighted “existing powers” to allow the cancellation of Britons’ passports, while stating UK jihadis will face police investigation and possible prosecution on their return home.
Meanwhile, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson only pointedly referred to previous remarks by Mr Williamson’s predecessor Sir Michael Fallon, who told British jihadis in Iraq and Syria they are “legitimate targets”.
Labour MP John Woodcock demanded “insecure” Mr Williamson be “slapped down” by Downing Street over his “fatuous posturing”.
He said: “Any future enemy of Britain could say, ‘Why should we respect the Geneva convention on captured British soldiers when the British don’t respect it for their own citizens?”‘
Lord MacDonald, the former director of public prosecutions, hit back at Mr Williamson’s “juvenile response” as he warned “it simply will not be lawful in all circumstances to kill jihadis”.
He told the BBC that Mr Williamson’s position “is really a policy that belongs in a Netflix series more seriously than it belongs in the range of policies that should be being applied by the UK Government”.
Max Hill QC, the independent review of terrorism legislation, sparked a row earlier this year after suggesting authorities should “be looking towards reintegration” for British jihadists returning home.
In response to Mr Williamson’s remarks on Thursday, Mr Hill posted on Twitter: “Criminal prosecution inevitable in most cases where UK citizens return, and where evidence of committing serious criminal offences.”
Despite the backlash, Mr Williamson later doubled down on his remarks, telling Sky News of the need to “destroy” Islamic State.
“We need to make sure that the people that operate in this death cult are not allowed to cause a threat to this country,” he said.
Asked whether he would direct UK forces to hunt down British jihadists in Iraq and Syria, Mr Williamson replied: “You can obviously appreciate that I am not going to go into an operational discussion.
“What we need to do is make sure that we are doing everything we can do to eliminate the threat of extremism and terrorism reaching the streets of Britain.
“But, so often people do not see that threat as something that is manifesting itself in the lands abroad, but that is where it is manifesting itself.
“That’s why our forces are constantly doing so much to make sure that is eliminated.”
(c) Sky News 2017: Backlash at minister Gavin Williamson’s ‘kill British jihadis’ call