U.K. government releases new guidelines on extremism

The new guidelines do not involve changes to criminal law, but seek to list organisations that continue not to be banned from having any association with or funding from the government.

Updated - March 14, 2024 10:53 pm IST

Published - March 14, 2024 05:40 pm IST - LONDON

 Communities Secretary Michael Gove. File

 Communities Secretary Michael Gove. File | Photo Credit: REUTERS

The U.K. government, on March 14, unveiled a new and expanded definition of extremism and announced a policy banning government association and funding for designated organisations. The guidelines were criticized before they were formally unveiled, and the process has been mired in controversy after the names of some organisations on the new extremism list were leaked.

The U.K. saw a surge in Anti-Semitic and Islamophobic activity and a rise in far-right violence since Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel and Israel’s retaliatory attacks in Gaza.

With Britain heading towards a general election before January 2025, several politicians including three former Conservative Home Secretaries had issued a statement warning Conservative and Labour lawmakers to work together on the issue and not use it for “short-term tactical advantage”.

“The proposed definition will hold that extremism is the promotion or advancement of an ideology based on violence, hatred or intolerance that aims to negate or destroy the fundamental rights and freedoms of others, or undermine, overturn, or replace the UK system of liberal parliamentary democracy and democratic rights, or intentionally create a permissive environment for others to achieve these results,” the U.K.’s minister for communities, Michael Gove said in the House of Commons.

The new guidelines do not involve changes to criminal law, but seek to list organisations that continue not to be banned from having any association with or funding from the government.  The government has set up a ‘Counter-Extremism Centre of Excellence’ to identify new entities of concern.

Mr Gove listed a few of the Neo-Nazi and Islamist organisations under scrutiny, including the British National Socialist Movement, Patriotic Alternative, Cage, MEND and the Muslim Association of Britain, which he described as a U.K. affiliate of the Muslim Brotherhood.  A legal inquiry has been constituted to look  into how names got leaked to the press, as per Mr Grove.

Among the critics of the government’s new guidelines were the Archbishops of Canterbury and York who warned in a joint statement that the new rules could disproportionately impact Muslim communities and “drive us [Britons] apart”.

“Islamism should never be confused with Islam,” Mr Gove said in the Commons on Thursday.

Extreme right wing group activity in the U.K. is a “growing worry” as is the targeting of Muslims and Jewish communities, he said.

Addressing concerns that the new rules could curb free speech,  Mr Gove said they would not apply to gender-critical campaigners, individuals with conservative religious beliefs, environmental protest groups or “ those exercising their proper right to free speech”.

Opposition parties also continued to call on the Conservatives to part with £10 million in donations from their largest donor, Frank Hester, who had reportedly said in 2019 that MP Diane Abbott made him want to “ hate all black women” and that “she should be shot”.  Mr Hester had apologized for the comments.

On Thursday, Mr Gove called his remarks “clearly racist and regrettable”, but made no commitments about the funding, when asked if the remarks met his definition of extremism and if the Conservative Party would return the money or donate it to charity.

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