Boris Johnson has spoken of his anger over the London Bridge attack, and claimed that scrapping early release from prison would have stopped convicted terrorist Usman Khan killing two people.
The Prime Minister said that because the “broken hung parliament was preoccupied with blocking Brexit”, the Government was unable to make the changes required to keep violent offenders and terrorists in jail for longer.
His intervention came amid a political row over the release of Usman, who stabbed a man and a woman to death, halfway through a 16-year prison sentence – and as Jeremy Corbyn backed the actions of the police who shot the terrorist dead.
Mr Johnson said: “Since becoming Prime Minister, I’ve said we need a big change of direction on violent crime and security. What I have seen over the last 24 hours has made me angry – it’s absolutely clear that we can’t carry on with the failed approaches of the past.”
He added: “This is why I’ve also said that we must keep violent offenders and terrorists in jail longer and end the automatic early release system.
“We took some steps to do this before the election. However, due to the broken hung parliament that was preoccupied with blocking Brexit, we could not do more.”
A Sentencing Bill included in the Queen’s Speech in October, which became defunct once the election was called, would have changed the automatic release point from halfway to two thirds for adult offenders serving sentences of four years or more for serious violence or sexual offences.
Judges can already impose extended sentences for offenders assessed as “dangerous”, where they will serve two thirds, but the proposed legislation would make the longer jail terms mandatory for certain offences.
Mr Johnson’s first Queen’s Speech as Prime Minister was branded a pre-election stunt by the opposition, as he was pushing for a general election at the time.
Mr Johnson added: “The terrorist who attacked yesterday was sentenced 11 years ago under laws passed in 2008 which established automatic early release.
“This system has got to end – I repeat, this has got to end, as I’ve been saying for four months. If you are convicted of a serious terrorist offence, there should be a mandatory minimum sentence of 14 years – and some should never be released.
“Further, for all terrorism and extremist offences the sentence announced by the judge must be the time actually served – these criminals must serve every day of their sentence, with no exceptions.
“These simple changes, in line with what I’ve been saying since becoming Prime Minister, would have prevented this attack.
“I believe they will help stop further attacks and these changes will be made urgently in the New Year if I am Prime Minister and have a majority in Parliament.”
Mr Johnson said that, from surveillance and operations to sentencing and licensing conditions, the balance of the whole legal system must be shifted in a “much tougher direction” against serious criminals and terrorists.
In August, Mr Johnson ordered an urgent review of sentencing policy, saying that dangerous criminals must be taken off the streets and punishments “truly fit the crime” if the public was to have confidence in the justice system.
Downing Street confirmed that advice was submitted to the Prime Minister in October, which led to the Sentencing Bill being announced in the Queen’s Speech. The advice was internal and has not been published, a Downing Street spokeswoman said.
Meanwhile, Mr Johnson rejected criticism of police shooting the attacker, adding: “The police had very good reasons to think the attacker presented a real and deadly threat. They had to make split second decisions. I know the overwhelming majority of the country will join me in giving them our absolute support.”
In a speech on Sunday, Mr Corbyn will also back police, saying: “If police believe an attacker is wearing a suicide vest and innocent lives are at risk, then it is right they are able to use lethal force.”
In the aftermath of the attack, a row flared up when Home Secretary Priti Patel blamed a previous Labour government after Yvette Cooper, Labour candidate and former chair of the Commons Home Affairs Committee, asked how the attacker could have been released when he was deemed so dangerous.
Ms Patel took to Twitter to respond to Labour’s Ms Cooper, and also tweeted Jeremy Corbyn after he said questions need to be urgently answered regarding the roles of the Parole Board and probation services.
She wrote: “The Parole Board could not be involved in this decision @jeremycorbyn.
“Your party changed the law in 2008 so that Khan was automatically released irrespective of the danger he posed. Very concerning that you want to be PM but don’t understand this.”