Class A drugs are “bad for society”, the Prime Minister has said, as he vowed to “come down hard” on the gangsters peddling unlawful narcotics as part of the Government’s crackdown plan.
Speaking ahead of the unveiling of the Government’s 10-year drugs strategy in England and Wales, Boris Johnson said the Government was “absolutely determined to fight” the “disgusting” drugs trade.
“I take the view that it is a long time really since you heard a government say that drugs – Class A drugs – are bad and bad for society, bad for opportunity, bad for kids growing up in this country,” he told broadcasters in Merseyside.
“That’s my view, and I think it is something we can tackle, something we can deal with.”
The Home Office said there are 300,000 heroin and crack addicts in England who are responsible for nearly half of acquisitive crime, including burglary and robbery, while drugs drive nearly half of all homicides.
The total cost to society is put at nearly £20 billion a year.
Mr Johnson said he wanted to break the cycle of arresting culprits “time after time” and returning them to prison “again and again” for being involved in drug-related crime, by offering the “humane” option of rehabilitation.
The plan, due to be announced by policing minister Kit Malthouse in the Commons on Monday, will include what ministers say will be the biggest increase in investment and recovery in an attempt to end the cycle of addiction and repeat offending.
Mr Johnson added: “You’ve got to be realistic, you’ve got to be humane, you’ve got to be compassionate, you’ve got to recognise that overwhelmingly the problem is caused by 300,000 people whose lives are simply chaotic, who are torn apart by their own addiction – you’ve got to help them, you’ve got to do rehab.”
He said part of the strategy would include coming “down hard on the gangsters who are making hell of people’s lives”.
Ministers are set to announce a police clampdown to cut off the supply of class A drugs by city-based crime rings to the surrounding county areas – known as county lines operations.
An aggressive campaign is set to be aimed at drug gangs, with a commitment to dismantle more than 2,000 county lines over the next three years, involving thousands more arrests.
Mr Johnson on Monday repeated the 2,000 figure, but the National Police Chiefs’ Council said in October that the number of county lines had reduced from 2,000 in 2018 to approximately 600 active lines at any one time.
The Conservative Party leader was speaking after joining police in Liverpool for morning raids in the Kirkdale and Anfield areas of the city as part of an investigation into county lines dealing.
Two people – a 34-year-old woman and a 27-year-old man – were arrested and taken to police stations in Merseyside for questioning following the execution of two warrants and were later released under investigation.
As part of the Government’s long-term plan, police will carry out 6,400 “disruptions” against the activities of organised criminals, targeting the road and rail networks they use while protecting vulnerable young people exploited by the gangs to run drugs for them.
When dealers are arrested, police will be able to seize their mobile phones and use them to send messages to their clients to discourage drug use and direct them to support.
The measure is designed to remove the feeling of anonymity when people purchase illegal drugs by making them aware the police know what is going on.
A behaviour change campaign will be piloted on university campuses to help understand which messages work in discouraging drug misuse at an early stage.
The Prime Minister said the Government was “not going to sit idly by” while so-called “lifestyle users” indulge in drug taking, arguing that “all demand is helping to create the problem”.
In an interview with The Sun On Sunday, Mr Johnson said action to tackle middle class drug use could include removing the passports and driving licences of offenders.
It comes after frontbencher Mr Malthouse said he would be “surprised” if there were not users of unlawful drugs in Parliament after a newspaper investigation found traces of cocaine in numerous sites.
“There are obviously several thousand people who work on the estate and I would be surprised if there weren’t some lifestyle users of drugs amongst them,” he told Sky News.
Among the measures in the strategy is an expansion of drug testing on arrest, with police encouraged to direct individuals who test positive towards treatment or other relevant interventions.
This could include attendance at drug awareness courses with criminal sanctions for those who continue to use.
Judges will be given the power to order drugs tests on offenders serving community sentences for drugs-related crimes, with the prospect of jail if they test positive.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the drug problem had “got a lot worse” over the past decade and accused the Tories of taking “millions and millions” of pounds out of the systems for tackling drug use and drug-related crime.
“I want to see the strategy, I want the Prime Minister to take responsibility for the money that’s been taken out of criminal justice in the last 10 years that’s caused many of these problems,” said the former director of public prosecutions, who was speaking after receiving his Covid-19 booster jab.
The Children’s Society said it was “worried” that children could be “prosecuted more often for using drugs” under the Government’s plans, given that criminals are known to “use offers of drugs, as well as alcohol, gifts, friendship and status” to groom young people.
Policy manager Iryna Pona said: “Far better early support is needed to help those with drug addictions, including young people, as well as to protect them from predators out to manipulate and exploit them.”