National Security Bill receives Royal Assent

Friday 14 July 2023 -

This week, the National Security Bill became law after being passed by both Houses of Parliament and securing Royal Assent. The National Security Act 2023 brings together vital new measures designed to protect the British public, modernise counter-espionage laws and, further, address the evolving threat posed to national security.

With this new legislation, the UK is now a harder target for those states who seek to conduct hostile acts against the nation. Those acts include espionage, foreign interference (including in the political system), sabotage and acts that endanger life.

The new powers enshrined within the National Security Act 2023 will help to ensure that the UK remains the hardest operating environment for malign activity undertaken by foreign actors.

Russia remains the most acute threat posed to the UK’s security, although there has been interference from China, while actors from Iran have made concerted efforts to kill or kidnap British or UK-based individuals.

Security Minister Tom Tugendhat, said: “We are facing growing threats from foreign states. Over the past years, we’ve seen attempts to harm our people, damage our economy and undermine our democracy. Iran’s recent attempts to kidnap or kill people living in the UK are beyond contempt and a fundamental violation of our sovereignty.

“The National Security Act provides the tools to expose this type of activity and hold those responsible to account.”

The National Security Act 2023 overhauls the outdated espionage laws and will provide law enforcement and intelligence agencies with new and updated tools to deter, detect and disrupt modern day state-based threats. For the first time, there is an offence of foreign interference, meaning that it will now be illegal to engage in conduct that interferes with fundamental rights, such as voting and freedom of speech, which are essential to the UK’s democracy.

These powers will apply to an individual acting on behalf of any state, which means the UK will be better equipped to tackle the full spectrum of malign activity, whether in the form of disinformation, cyber attacks, electoral interference or even physical attacks (including the barbaric use of chemical weapons).

The National Security Act 2023 also introduces a new Foreign Influence Registration Scheme. This criminalises those acting covertly for states which pose the greatest threat to national security and strengthens the resilience of UK democracy by bringing transparency to foreign political influence.

The Foreign Influence Registration Scheme has been created to tackle covert influence in the UK and is split into two parts. The political tier makes any political influence activity undertaken at the direction of a foreign power registerable. The enhanced tier – which is designed to target those countries posing a risk to the safety or interests of the UK – will require registration of arrangements that are entered into with a specified foreign power or entity controlled by a foreign power. Failure to register when required will be deemed a criminal offence.

Original reporting: Fire & Security Matters