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Government strengthens approach to counter extremism

  • Definition of extremism updated to respond to increased extremist threat since October 7 terror attacks in Israel
  • New engagement principles published to ensure government does not legitimise extremist groups 
  • Follows Prime Minister’s commitment to stamp out extremism to ensure we keep our citizens safe and our country secure                 

An updated, more focused definition designed to help tackle the ever-evolving threat of extremism in the UK has been published by the government today.

The updated and more precise definition of extremism will be used by government departments and officials alongside a set of engagement principles, to ensure they are not inadvertently providing a platform, funding or legitimacy to groups or individuals who attempt to advance extremist ideologies that negate our fundamental rights and freedoms and overturn the UK’s system of liberal parliamentary democracy. This definition is not statutory and has no effect on the existing criminal law – it applies to the operations of Government itself.

Since the 7 October Hamas terror attacks in Israel concerns have been raised about the wide-ranging risk of radicalisation. On hate crime, since 7 October the Community Security Trust recorded 4,103 antisemitic incidents in the UK in 2023, an increase of 147% compared to 2022, and Tell MAMA recorded a 335% increase in anti-Muslim hate cases in the last four months. 

As the Prime Minister said recently, this kind of behaviour and intimidation is unacceptable, does not reflect the values of the United Kingdom and must be resisted at all times.

The new definition and engagement principles will make sure those who promote extreme ideologies or spread hate in their communities are not legitimised through their interactions with government. Following publication, the Government will undertake a robust process to assess groups for extremism against the definition, which will then inform decisions around government engagement and funding.

It is the first in a series of steps to promote social cohesion, democratic resilience, and to counter extremism and religious hatred. 

Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said: 

The United Kingdom is a success story – a multi-national, multi-ethnic, multi-faith democracy. It is stronger because of its diversity.  

But our democracy and our values of inclusivity and tolerance are under challenge from extremists. In order to protect our democratic values, it is important both to reinforce what we have in common and to be clear and precise in identifying the dangers posed by extremism. 

The pervasiveness of extremist ideologies has become increasingly clear in the aftermath of the 7 October attacks and poses a real risk to the security of our citizens and our democracy. This is the work of Extreme Right-Wing and Islamist extremists who are seeking to separate Muslims from the rest of society and create division within Muslim communities. They seek to radicalise individuals, deny people their full rights, suppress freedom of expression, incite hatred, and undermine our democratic institutions.

Today’s measures will ensure that government does not inadvertently provide a platform to those setting out to subvert democracy and deny other people’s fundamental rights. This is the first in a series of measures to tackle extremism and protect our democracy.

The new definition provides a stricter characterisation that government can use to make sure that extremist organisations and individuals are not being legitimised or given a platform through their interactions with government. It reads: 

Extremism is the promotion or advancement of an ideology based on violence, hatred or intolerance, that aims to: 

  1. negate or destroy the fundamental rights and freedoms of others; or
  2. undermine, overturn or replace the UK’s system of liberal parliamentary democracy and democratic rights; or
  3. intentionally create a permissive environment for others to achieve the results in (1) or (2).

The new definition is narrower and more precise than the 2011 Prevent definition, which did not provide the detail we now need to assess and identify extremism. This new definition helps clearly articulate how extremism is evidenced through the public behaviour of extremists that advance their violent, hateful or intolerant aims.

It draws on the work of Dame Sara Khan and Sir Mark Rowley’s 2021 ‘Operating with Impunity Report’ and addresses key recommendations from the 2023 Independent Review of Prevent.

The definition is clear that extremism involves advancing or promoting an ideology based on violence, hatred or intolerance, a high bar that only captures the most concerning of activities. It is not about silencing those with private and peaceful beliefs – not will it affect free speech, which will always be protected.

It does not create new powers, it instead helps the government and our partners better to identify extremist organisations, individuals and behaviours. 

Alongside the new definition, the government is also publishing a set of engagement principles which are designed to help officials to engage more widely whilst mitigating the risk of undertaking engagement that undermines government’s core aims to:

  • Maintain public confidence in government;
  • Uphold democratic values; and
  • Protect the rights and freedoms of others.

UK Ministerial departments will be expected to consider the engagement standards when deciding whether to move forward with engagement with groups that meet the new definition. This will ensure the government does not meet, fund or provide a platform to extremist groups or individuals.  It will also apply to the honours system and due diligence for public appointments. Non-central government institutions, such as arms-length bodies, higher education institutions and independent organisations including the police and CPS, will not be obliged to adopt the definition or apply the engagement principles initially.

To ensure that government has the tools it needs to effectively counter extremism, a new counter-extremism centre of excellence has been established in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. This unit will provide leadership for the cross-government counter-extremism community, ensure consistent application of the definition and engagement standards, and take the lead on producing strategic assessments of extremism. This team will draw on the expertise of the Commission for Countering Extremism  as well as counter extremism policy fellows – some of the country’s foremost counter-extremism experts – will join the centre of excellence to ensure the very best academic insight is shaping our approach.  

Lord Walney, Independent Adviser on Political Violence and Disruption, said: 

The threat to Britain from extremists includes those who may not use violence directly yet target our core values, so it is welcome that this updated definition includes those who seek to undermine or replace liberal democracy. 

Greater clarity in defining extremism can underpin a concerted approach across civil society to protect our country.” 

Professor Ian Acheson, Senior Advisor, Counter Extremism Project said: 

These are necessary next steps to confront and deter those who advocate for violent extremism. Hateful anti-British ideas that undermine our democracy creating intimidation and fear need ideologues to drive them. It is intolerable that the state underwrites people and organisations poisoning community life in one of the most successful multi-ethnic countries in the world.

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