Commentary on Political Economy

Sunday 3 March 2024

 

Groups ‘undermining’ British values to be guilty of extremism

Ministers are seeking to broaden the term’s definition amid concerns over attempts to undermine democracy through violence and intimidation
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The prime minister has promised to face down extremists “who would tear us apart”
The prime minister has promised to face down extremists “who would tear us apart” CARL COURT/GETTY IMAGES
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Ministers are to broaden the government’s definition of extremism as part of a crackdown on people and groups “undermining” Britain’s institutions and values.

Rishi Sunak has asked Michael Gove, the levelling up secretary, to update the government’s definition of extremism, which was first set out more than a decade ago. It defines extremism as “vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values” and is seen by the government as no longer being fit for purpose.

A new definition, which is still being finalised, is expected to cover those whose actions more broadly “undermine” the country’s institutions or values.

The change is significant as groups or individuals deemed to be extremist by ministers can be excluded from government and council funding and barred from working with public bodies.

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Senior Whitehall sources said that the announcement, expected later this month, would include a list of groups that fell foul of the new definition, but added that this was still being worked on and was “legally fraught”.

Michael Gove is working on the updated definition, which civil rights groups warned could limit freedom of expression
Michael Gove is working on the updated definition, which civil rights groups warned could limit freedom of expression
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Gove is also expected to announce details of a government unit for combating extremism that will be responsible for providing leadership and training for officials across government departments to improve their ability to identify signs and instances of extremism.

The unit is also expected to assess whether individuals or groups have breached the new definition and will collect data and research to inform counterextremism policies.

Both moves follow Sunak’s pledge on Friday to face down the extremists “who would tear us apart”.

The prime minister said that the government would “redouble support” for the Prevent programme, which is designed to tackle radicalisation, and would “demand that universities stop extremist activity on campus”.

As part of the broader package, the Home Office is drawing up a list of foreign extremist preachers who will be banned from entry into Britain.

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It is understood that officials will be asked to identify figures from countries including Pakistan and Indonesia to add to a warning list.

Ministers already have powers to block people who are “non-conducive to the public good”. Those powers are generally used to stop people who are known to threaten national security from coming to Britain.

Ministers believe they can make greater use of them to include individuals preaching racism, incitement, or using intimidation or violence to undermine the democratic process.

Jonathan Hall KC, the independent reviewer of counterterrorism legislation, who previously argued that Shamima Begum should be allowed to return to Britain, said he had not seen “this level of open extremism” in Britain since being appointed in 2019.

He told the Mail on Sunday: “It is the public brazenness of hate directed towards people by category, in particular Zionists, or Israelis, or Jews.”

He added that Britain was seen as a “legitimate target for terrorists” because it had allied with the US and Israel.

Hall said that the worsening threats made towards politicians were part of the problem. “It is not simply hate, they are threats of murder and rape,” he said.

Gove said that Sunak was “absolutely right” about the need for new powers to tackle extremism. “His words are sadly all too necessary,” he said. “We need to unite to fight extremism everywhere it exists.”

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