The threat of a terrorist strike has been downgraded from severe to substantial, putting the risk of an attack at the lowest level since just before 7/7.
But Alan Johnson, the Home Secretary, said that the country still faces a “real and serious” threat from terrorists.
Mr Johnson said: “The Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre (JTAC) has reduced the threat to the UK from international terrorism from Severe to Substantial.
“This means that an attack on the UK is a ‘strong possibility’. JTAC make their judgments based on a broad range of factors, including the intent and capabilities of international terrorist groups in the UK.
“We still face a real and serious threat from terrorists and the public will notice little difference in the security measures that are in place and I urge the public to remain vigilant.
“The police and security services are continuing in their thorough efforts to discover, track and disrupt terrorist activity.”
This month, the country’s most senior counter-terrorism officer, John Yates, hinted at the possibility of a change.
He told the Association of Chief Police Officers’ conference in Manchester: “I think there is a possibility the threat level may come down. It is logical because we cannot keep having it high unless the threat is there.”
Just after the attacks on the transport system in July 2005 the threat was raised to critical, as it was again after the Haymarket and Glasgow airport attacks in June 2007 before being downgraded back to severe where it has remained until today.
The decision to lower the threat level comes as the Metropolitan police, Britain’s biggest force, announced that it will limit its use of controversial stop-and-search powers amid claims of discrimination against minority groups.
Although all of London is still designated a stop-and-search area by the Home Secretary where Section 44 can be used, from today the areas where it will actually be used have been scaled back.
Officers can stop and search a person or a vehicle under Section 44 around specific and iconic sites, such as Buckingham Palace and Parliament, and during specific operations.
Scotland Yard says that stop-and-search is a vital tactic intended to “create a hostile environment for terrorists and provide a visible reassurance to the public”.
In other cases officers will be told to use Section 43 of the Act, which requires them to have reasonable suspicion that the person they are stopping and searching is a terrorist.
Officers from every borough today attended a Met-wide briefing outlining how the tactics will work.
Southwark, Brent, Tower Hamlets and Newham have been testing the new tactics since April.
Each borough will now have to identify the sites where they want Section 44 to be deployed and continue to brief and support officers through the process.
The decision to reduce the use of stop-and-search was taken by Sir Paul Stephenson, the Commissioner of the Met, earlier this summer after consulting with the Muslim Safety Forum, Liberty and other groups.
Commander Simon Bray, from Territorial Policing, said: “Stop and search under the Terrorism Act 2000 remains an important tactic in our counter-terrorism strategy. It can disrupt and deter terrorist activity by creating a hostile environment for terrorists as well as providing visible reassurance to the public.
“Our review of Section 44 and the tactics being launched today are designed to ensure we continue to protect Londoners while addressing the concerns that have been raised.
“We understand being stopped by police may cause an inconvenience. But it is our duty to protect the public and their patience and co-operation will certainly help keep London safe.”
Earlier this year Assistant Commissioner John Yates, the Met’s head of counter-terrorism, highlighted the concerns about the use of Section 44 in a report to the Metropolitan Police Authority.
He wrote: “Since October 2007 the MPS has conducted 154,293 Section 44 stop-and-searches. This is a significant increase over previous years. Whilst the threat level remains at ‘severe’, the MPS felt that it was now appropriate to review our use of this power.”
What the law says
— Section 44, Terrorism Act 2000
Authorises an officer to stop a vehicle in an area or at a place specified in the authorisation and to search it, as well as anyone in it, or anything carried in it An officer can also stop a pedestrian “in an area or at a place specified in the authorisation” and search him or her.
— Section 43, Terrorism Act 2000.
Authorises an officer to stop and search a person “whom he reasonably suspects to be a terrorist to discover whether he has in his possession anything which may constitute evidence that he is a terrorist” Anything then found that may be evidence that the person is a terrorist may be seized.