What should the government do about British jihadists?

Gavin Williamson has briefly reignited the row over the government’s policy towards British terrorists in Iraq and Syria.

The controversial recent appointment as defence secretary has been labelled as childish after saying that “a dead terrorist can’t cause any harm to Britain” and that “any terrorist, whether they come from this country or any other, should never be allowed back into this country. We should do everything we can do to destroy and eliminate that threat.”

Despite government sources attacking the defence secretary’s rather direct approach, it doesn’t seem to drastically differ from either public opinion or previous statements from Michael Fallon or the Foreign Office minister Rory Stewart.

Three quarters (77%) of UK adults think that the government should prevent British fighters for ISIS returning to Britain. Most commonly the preference is for stripping them of citizenship (42%), but just over a third (35%) think they should be treated as enemy combatants and legitimate targets to be attacked.

Only one in ten (11%) believe that British fighters should be brought back to Britain, either to be sentenced or rehabilitated. The group most keen on this suggestion is Guardian readers – 22% think bringing them back to the UK is the best solution.

When Rory Stewart’s specific comments from October were relayed 62% agreed that, considering the threat they pose, “the only way of dealing with them will be, in almost every case, to kill them.” Only a fifth (18%) disagreed. Over four in five (84%) agreed that British ISIS fighters have made themselves a legitimate target and 77% thought they can never be re-integrated back into UK society.

“We have to be serious about the fact these people are a serious danger to us, and unfortunately the only way of dealing with them will be, in almost every case, to kill them”
Rory Stewart, foreign office and international development minister (October 2017)

To summarize, most think that British fighters for ISIS should definitely be prevented from returning home, and even if the government does not systematically hunt them down they have put themselves in harm’s way and they should not have immunity. Three in ten (29%) might think we’re just as bad as ISIS if we kill them instead of imprisoning them, but 46% do not. Generally the situation Rory Stewart laid out is accepted.

The biggest split in approach to this problem comes along gender lines, although there is some difference on age as well.

Men and women don’t differ that much on preventing British jihadi fighters from returning, but women would far prefer we simply strip them of citizenship whereas men are keener on treating them as targets to be attacked. This is more a matter of preference however. Although women are less gung-ho in support of the case presented by Rory Stewart, agree with it they still do.

See the full tables here.