UK. Four Britons who were imprisoned in the US Guantánamo camp in Cuba were released at the end of January. They were arrested on arrival in the UK but released the following day. The men claimed to have been tortured in the camp, something the United States
On April 9, Prince Charles marries Camilla Parker Bowles at a civil ceremony in Windsor. Camilla was thus given the title of Duchess of Cornwall and Rothersay. The wedding was postponed one day for Charles to attend Pope John Paul II’s funeral. In March, it had been made clear that Camilla Parker Bowles would become queen on the day her husband takes over the throne.
On February 18, a ban on fox hunting with dogs came into force. Several attempts to lift the ban were rejected during the year by the courts.
According to countryaah, London is the capital and one of the major cities within the country of United Kingdom. 133,000 people from the new EU countries in eastern and southern Europe had come to the UK to work. The figure was about ten times higher than expected.
- Also see abbreviationfinder.org for how the acronym UK stands for the country of United Kingdom and other meanings of this two-letter abbreviation.
The Iraq War continued to create problems for Prime Minister Tony Blair. In March, information leaked to the media that in March 2003, Justice Chancellor Lord Goldsmith had expressed doubts about whether the military intervention was really legal.
In April, Blair announced parliamentary elections until May 5. At the beginning of the year, it seemed as if the previous tensions between Blair and his finance minister Gordon Brown existed. During the electoral movement, they tried to convince voters that there were no contradictions between them. In its campaign, Labor emphasized the good economy during its eight years in power, although growth rates had now begun to slow down. New investments in care, education and the environment were also promised. Before the election, Blair said he intended to remain for another term, but that he would not run for the next election.
The Conservative Party went to the election with the motto “do you think we are” and made promises of more police officers, cleaner hospitals, lower taxes, better school discipline and controlled immigration. Charles Kennedy, leader of the Liberal Democrats, tried to paint his party as the real alternative to Labor. He promised to raise the income tax for high-income earners in addition to large social initiatives. The Liberal Democrats also tried to win votes on their opposition to the Iraq war.
The May 5 election was won by Labor, which received 35% of the vote and 355 of the 646 seats. The Conservatives got 32% and 197 seats, while the Liberal Democrats got 22% and 62 seats. Labor declined by 5% compared to 2001, but the party was able to retain power with a reduced majority in the lower house. This was seen as a personal hardship for Blair.
In Northern Ireland, the hard-line Protestant Democratic Unionist Party won nine seats, Sinn Fein, the IRA’s political branch, five seats, the Social Democratic SDLP three seats and Ulster’s Unionist party one seat. The Scottish Nationalist Party won six seats and the Welsh Plaid Cymru three seats. The turnout was just over 61%. The Conservative and Liberal Democrats also appeared in the municipal elections held on the same day in England.
The government program presented in mid-May contained few surprises. The government stuck to the controversial proposal to introduce mandatory ID cards from 2008, promising tougher crime rates and measures to reduce immigration and the number of asylum seekers.
After both French and Dutch voters said no to the new EU constitution, the government in June decided to postpone the promised British referendum indefinitely. On July 1, the British took over the EU presidency for six months.
In the morning rush on July 7, several bomb attacks were carried out in London’s public transport without warning. The act claimed 56 lives (including the assailants) and over 700 people were injured. These were the first suicide attacks in Britain, and the suspicions were directed at militant Islamists almost immediately. It attracted considerable attention that three of the four suicide bombers, who were of Pakistani origin, were born in the UK. The fourth man was a Jamaican who had converted to Islam. The deed came the day after London was named host for the 2012 Summer Olympics and coincided with Blair hosting the G8 Summit in Scottish Gleneagles. Two Islamist groups took on the blame for the attacks via the Internet, but it was unclear if any of the assailants had any ties to these groups.
On July 21, four new assaults were carried out, but this time the explosive charges did not explode as planned and the damage was relatively limited. About a week after the second attack, all suspected perpetrators had been arrested, including one in Italy. The four men were of African origin. Police later said there was no evidence that there was any connection between these men and those behind the July 7 death. Prime Minister Blair rejected accusations that the attacks were a direct result of Britain’s role in the Iraq war.
Police were given the right to “shoot to kill” to prevent new deeds. On July 22, police shot to death a 27-year-old Brazilian, Jean Charles de Menezes, in the subway in the belief that he was preparing for another attack. The police, which received strong criticism for their actions, appointed an internal investigation that was expected to be completed by the end of the year. It was later revealed that the Menezes had not acted in any suspicious manner prior to the shooting.
In July, former Afghan warlord Faryadi Sawar Zardad was sentenced to 20 years in prison. He was convicted of causing torture and other serious abuse in Afghanistan. He thus became the first foreign national sentenced in the UK for crimes he had committed in another country.
The British laws on terrorism were previously debated. In 2004, the lawmakers in the upper house ruled that the 2001 law that made it possible to hold foreign nationals who could neither be prosecuted nor deported to their home countries indefinitely without prosecution violated the European Convention on Human Rights. The dozens of prisoners who have been incarcerated indefinitely were released to be monitored in their homes instead in various ways. In order to get Parliament to approve the new control measures in March (electronic surveillance, ban on using telephones and the Internet, etc.), the government agreed that a review of the law would take place after one year.
Following the July attacks, the government tried to get the other political parties to agree to a new and tougher legislation. However, both the Conservative and the Liberal Democrats were skeptical of the proposal that terror suspects should be held in detention for 90 days without prosecution, compared to the previous 14 days. In the bill that was tabled on September 15, it would be punishable, among other things, to directly or indirectly call for terrorism, to glorify terrorism and to prepare or help someone to prepare an attack. People who participated in terrorism abroad would also be denied political asylum. The intention was that the control measures adopted in March would also apply to British citizens. The government also wanted to expel foreign nationals who had called for violence, and it negotiated with several countries to ensure that those expelled would not be tortured or executed upon returning to their home country. Human rights organizations questioned whether such guarantees would be truly respected and the bill also faced sharp criticism from high-ranking lawyers and parts of Labor. Nine Algerians and one Jordanian were arrested in August. Several of them had previously been imprisoned under the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2001. Four of the Algerians were released in October against the bail to basically sit in house arrest. The others remained detained at the end of the year. Human rights organizations questioned whether such guarantees would be truly respected and the bill also faced sharp criticism from high-ranking lawyers and parts of Labor. Nine Algerians and one Jordanian were arrested in August. Several of them had previously been imprisoned under the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2001. Four of the Algerians were released in October against the bail to basically sit in house arrest. The others remained detained at the end of the year. Human rights organizations questioned whether such guarantees would be truly respected and the bill also faced sharp criticism from high-ranking lawyers and parts of Labor. Nine Algerians and one Jordanian were arrested in August. Several of them had previously been imprisoned under the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2001. Four of the Algerians were released in October against the bail to basically sit in house arrest. The others remained detained at the end of the year.
On November 8, for the first time, the government lost an important vote in the lower house when the majority voted against the proposal that terror suspects could be kept imprisoned for up to 90 days without prosecution. 49 Labor members went against the government. Later, the lower house approved a time limit of 28 days. Blair had invested heavily in winning over the opponents within his own party and the defeat was considered to weaken his political position. Later, the upper house would vote on the matter.
In December, the law firm ruled that evidence obtained through torture in other countries should not be used in British courts against terror suspects.
From several quarters, demands were made for the government to announce how long the British troops would stay in Iraq. According to plans, troop withdrawals would occur in the fall, but increased tensions in southern Iraq caused them to be postponed.
After the May election, Conservative leader Michael Howard had announced he would step down. In early December, 39-year-old David Cameron was appointed new party leader. The hope was that Cameron could renew the party by placing more emphasis on issues such as better quality of life and environment.
In December, the British managed to get the EU countries to approve a new long-term budget for the Union. Blair had then agreed to reduce the UK discount on the country’s budget charge. However, he failed to get through any reforms of EU agricultural aid, which he had hoped for.