UK police get new powers in response to nerve agent attack blamed on Russia

LONDON (Reuters) – New powers allowing British police officers to stop, question and detain people at the borders on suspicion of espionage or foreign interference came into force on Thursday in a response to a 2018 chemical attack blamed on Russian agents.

Russia has denied playing any part in the nerve agent poisoning of Sergei Skripal, a former Russian spy, and his daughter Yulia Skripal, in the English cathedral city of Salisbury.

Britain has named two Russian military intelligence agents as the prime suspects in the case, which led to the biggest Western expulsions of Russian diplomats and spies since the Cold War.

In response, Britain introduced new legislation, the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act 2019, which includes the new powers now coming into effect.

Known as Schedule 3 powers, they 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 Home Office, or interior ministry, said the new system included robust safeguards such as independent oversight by the Investigatory Powers Commissioner, as well as special protections for confidential material and journalistic sources.

“The threat to the UK from hostile state activity is growing and ever changing,” Home Secretary Priti Patel said in a statement.

“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.”

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