News story

New counter-terrorism strategy published

This news article was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

The government's new counter-terrorism strategy (known as CONTEST) was unveiled by Home Secretary Theresa May today.

This strategy has been changed to take account of the terrorist threats we now face and the government’s security and counter-terrorism policies. The updated strategy is published ahead of the UK’s biggest peace-time security operation around the Olympic Games.

Over the past ten years, international counter-terrorist work has made very significant progress. Al Qai’da is now weaker than at any time since 09/11 and there are opportunities for the UK and other countries to make further progress. The strategy makes clear we must seize those opportunities in the coming months and years.

But Al Qai’da continues to be a significant threat and other terrorist groups, some affiliated to Al Qai’da, have become stronger; the threat from Northern Ireland related terrorism has also increased. 

The government will therefore continue to give the highest importance to its counter-terrorist work.  

The updated strategy focuses on:

  • continuing to reassess our counter-terrorist powers to ensure they are both effective and proportionate
  • ensuring that we can maintain our intelligence coverage of terrorists operating here and overseas, where necessary responding to technological changes which terrorists may use to their advantage
  • considering ways to narrow the gap between the numbers of people we believe are engaged in terrorist related activity here and the numbers we prosecute and (where applicable) deport
  • implementing the findings of the recent review of Prevent work, which will have a broader scope (including aspects of extremism) but narrower focus - addressing the ideological challenge, supporting vulnerable people and working more closely with key sectors
  • strengthening our border security, through the new Border Command within the National Crime Agency and the development of e-borders; and, following two recent attempted attacks, strengthening aviation security through a new no-fly procedure, enhanced watchlisting arrangements and better cargo security 
  • keeping pace with new attack methods, for example by enhancing the firearms capability of the police following the Mumbai attack; and ensuring we have absorbed all the lessons from other terrorist incidents, including the 7/7 bombings
  • continuing to prepare for ‘low probability but high impact’ terrorist attacks, for example attacks using unconventional materials, and
  • ensuring that our emergency services continue to work seamlessly together during an emergency and have the capabilities and equipment that they need. 

Home Secretary’s statement

Home Secretary Theresa May said: ‘We know we face a real and serious threat from terrorism and I have always been clear that protecting national security and the safety of the British people is the first priority of this government.

‘The new counter-terrorism strategy is our response to the continuing and evolving threat that we face as a country. It is both comprehensive and wide-ranging, dealing with grand strategic issues and detailed technological points.

‘As we face this continuing threat, we have an unprecedented opportunity after the dramatic events of the last year. The updated counter-terrorism strategy will ensure that our ability to respond to changing threats is strengthened and people can continue to go about their lives freely and with confidence.’

The revised strategy sets out objectives for the next four years for each element of the successful four-strand structure of Pursue, Prevent, Protect and Prepare - a model which has been adopted by other UK agencies and overseas governments.
Assumptions about how the threat may change over the next four years are also set out, including how the death of Osama bin Laden will impact on the operational capability of Al Qa’ida in the Middle East and the continuation of isolated individuals engaging in terrorist activity in the name of extreme right wing views or other ideologies.
The document explains how the strategy will be implemented in the UK and overseas, the governance and funding arrangements that will underpin it, and how its success and impact will be assessed.

Notes to editors

1. Read the strategy on this website. 

2. The last version of the strategy was published in 2009.
3. The Home Secretary has responsibility for CONTEST and is supported by the Office for Security and Counter Terrorism (OSCT) in the Home Office. OSCT has led the work to produce this strategy, with contributions from government departments and the agencies that are responsible for its implementation.
4. The four work streams of CONTEST will continue to be: 

  • Pursue: to stop terrorist attacks;
  • Prevent: to stop people from becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism;
  • Protect: to strengthen our protection against terrorist attack; and
  • Prepare: where an attack cannot be stopped, to mitigate its impact.