New national security laws come into force

Policing and intelligence partners now have more powers to foil covert foreign influence, with espionage laws updated to tackle 21st century threats

Core measures put in place by the National Security Act passed in July come into force today and can now be used by operational partners to tackle modern-day threats against the UK.

Law enforcement agencies are now able to use the new tools and modernised powers to deter, detect and disrupt threats from those acting on behalf of foreign states against the UK and its interests.  

For the first time, it is an offence to be an undeclared foreign spy materially assisting the activities of a foreign intelligence service in the UK. Anyone caught carrying out such offences can be charged and prosecuted.     

The threat to the UK has evolved in recent years and Russia, China and Iran have all posed acute threats to the UK, through interference, poisonings and attempted kidnappings. This act makes it even more difficult for such activity to be undertaken on UK soil.

Home Secretary, James Cleverly, said:

"There are foreign powers who have shown their willingness to make threats to the UK and our freedoms. The National Security Act will prove critical in helping police and intelligence partners to make it even more difficult for them to do so, and as the core measures come in to force today, the UK becomes a safer country.

"We will always do everything possible to protect the United Kingdom."

Further activities which can now be put before the UK courts includes updated espionage offences, including the theft of trade secrets, foreign interference, including in the UK’s political system, sabotage, and modern ways of attempting to access the UK’s most sensitive sites.

Deputy Prime Minister, Oliver Dowden, said:

"The National Security Act is the most significant reform of espionage law in a century and demonstrates that the Government will always act to protect the UK from threats to our security, prosperity and interests.

"State threats are an evolving challenge and the new offences and powers in the National Security Act will ensure that our intelligence services and law enforcement have the tools they need to counter them."

The act has brought into effect modern laws to tackle such threats, replacing previous espionage legislation that was primarily designed to counter the threat from German spies before and after the First World War. 

Security Minister, Tom Tugendhat, said:  

"The UK has been facing a rise in foreign state-directed threats with various attempts to harm our citizens – we have not stood back but have created a new set of powers to confront it.  

"Our new national security laws can now be applied, and those who would seek to undermine our democracy can be held to account.  

"These new tools will protect us and hold all malign foreign actors responsible for any threatening activity."

The new tools available to operational partners will also provide the means to stop those seeking by illegitimate means to influence public figures.

It will also improve the process for the use of existing powers within the Counter Terrorism and Border Security Act 2019, which grant police officers the ability to stop individuals at ports and retain items that could ascertain their involvement in hostile activity by foreign states. 

Head of Counter-Terrorism Police, Matt Jukes, said: 

"The National Security Act means that UK policing will have the modern day practical powers required to detect, disrupt, deter, and prosecute those who seek to undermine our freedom and values. 

"It will also ensure that policing continues to play an integral role in protecting our communities from the threats posed by hostile state actors."

The act introduces specific powers to help law enforcement take action against, and obtain evidence in relation to, those acting on behalf of foreign states against the UK and its interests. This could include, for example, those who aid a foreign power by distributing information which has been illegally obtained through cyber espionage. The new powers include enhanced arrest and detention powers and a modernised search warrant power, containing improved safeguards.

Further areas of the National Security Act will come into force at a later stage. This includes the Foreign Influence Registration Scheme, which aims to strengthen the resilience of the UK political system against covert foreign influence, and is expected to come into force in 2024.

The National Security Act became law after being passed by both Houses of Parliament and securing Royal Assent in July 2023.

Home Office
The Rt Hon James Cleverly MP
The Rt Hon Oliver Dowden CBE MP
The Rt Hon Tom Tugendhat MBE VR MP