by Justin Cohen
Plots to attack the UK are foiled virtually every month and there are thousands of people in London “who could mean us harm”.
That was the stark warning from Boris Johnson during a speech to Norwood’s annual dinner, in which he described the fight against Islamic State as a “war” which would be fought “as much in the internet chat rooms of London as in Syria”.
Saying Islamic State had attacked “our collective way of life” last Friday night in Paris, he told the more than 1,000 guests at the Grosvenor House Hotel: “If you ask me whether we are at war with these people, then I’m afraid to say to you, unequivocally and categorically, ‘yes we are’. And I know that is a struggle that is understood by every Jewish person, whether at home or abroad.
“This war will not be quick and in many ways it will be the great struggle of our times. It will be a battle that is fought as much for hearts and minds as for territory – in the internet chat rooms of London as much as in Syria. And yet I am absolutely sure that in the end we will win. Because it is our society that has the better, the more beautiful and the more realistic understanding of the human spirit.”
The mayor of London received rapturous applause following his visit to Israel last week but his opening remarks stood in contrast to the jokes and upbeat atmosphere of the trip in the wake of the attacks in France. The work of Norwood in helping the disabled was an shining example of the stark difference in values between the West and IS, which would treat those aided by the charity with “brutality”, he said.
In the wake of Paris, Johnson told guests that authorities would now be exploring how to deploy armed officers to six or more locations. He added that was “entirely sensible” for David Cameron to try to “toughen up our ability to control who comes here” as parts of the re-negotiation with Europe.
He added: “If it is true – as I assure you it is – that there are several thousands of people – in the low thousands – in this city who could mean us harm , who are either radicalised or in the process of being radicalised, or at risk, then we’ve go to be reaching out to these people, talking to their families, trying to make sense of their lives and intercepting them before they get too far down the line. The vast majority of Muslims despise what Daesh stands for.”
In terms of addressing the situation in Syria, he acknowledged reluctance in some quarters for military action but warned: “This is a challenge that will not go away just by burying our heads in the sand. I’m afraid we need to step up.”
During a question and answer session, the mayor said he would “rather get funds from the treasury to build new homes for Londoners than get into a great war” with the Chancellor when challenged over a rise in stamp duty for properties over £1m and hailed Israel’s tech economy as “going gangbusters” following his trade mission last week.
Asked who he would back o become Tory leader next, he urged the PM to do a U-turn on his pledge to step down. He said there would be a long queue of “young men and women” when he does leave office, adding: “I will be at the back.”