The Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, has written to the United States government urging the release of five former UK residents still being held in Guantanamo Bay.
The move reverses the policy of the Blair administration NOT to press for their release because they are not British citizens.
The Foreign Office said it had reviewed the policy in the light of recent steps taken by the United States to reduce the number of detainees in Guantanamo.
Previously the government had said that these five men were effectively not Britain’s business as they were not British subjects.
But today the government said that in the light of US steps to reduce the number of detainees and move towards the closure of the camp it was changing its mind.
Although the foreign secretary has today written requesting their release, a deal may have been wrapped up at the Prime Minister’s trip to Camp David last week.
The foreign secretary’s letter is unlikely to be a surprise delivery at the state department.
Foreign Office statement
“The Foreign Secretary and Home Secretary have reviewed the Government’s approach to this group of individuals in light of these ongoing developments, our long-held policy aim of securing the closure of Guantanamo Bay, and the need to maintain national security.”
The five men are all former residents of the UK. They’d been granted refugee status: indefinite or exceptional leave to remain in Britain.
One of the five – Jamil el Banna – was arrested along with Bishar al Rawi who spoke to Channel 4 News last week.
In fact the government was already under pressure over Mr el Banna’s detention at Guantanamo. The High Court had given the Home Secretary until Thursday to decide whether he could return to his family in London. Now he will be able to.
Key to all of this has been a change of US policy to allow countries like Britain to start negotiating over the fate of non-British nationals.
Negotiations which the Foreign Office has warned could take some time.