UK government announces divisive new 'extremism' definition

UK government announces divisive new 'extremism' definition
Michael Gove named three UK-based Islamist organizations as under review as part of the revised extremism definition.
3 min read
14 March, 2024
Michael Gove named five Islamist and Neo-Nazi organisations which are now under review for extremism [GETTY]

The UK government on Thursday announced a revised definition of extremism in a bid to weed out groups which put 'British values' and democracy "under challenge", but the move has provoked concern from civic, political and religious groups.

Organisations which fall under the new definition, described as "more precise and rigorous" than the last, will be barred from seeking public funds or meeting with ministers.

Announcing the rewording in parliament on Thursday, Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Michael Gove named five Muslim and Neo-Nazi organisations which are now under review for extremism.

According to the government’s new definition, extremism is "the promotion or advancement of an ideology based on violence, hatred or intolerance" which aims to destroy the freedoms or rights of others, overturn UK liberal democracy or "intentionally create a permissive environment for others to achieve the results".

The Muslim Association of Britain, Cage and Muslim Engagement and Development (MEND) are three of the organisations.

A full list of organisations will be published by Downing Street in the coming weeks.

"We will be holding these and other organisations to account to assess if they meet our definition of extremism, and will take action as appropriate," Gove told parliament.

He said it was a necessary to revise the 2011 wording to "protect our democratic values and enhance social cohesion".

But the move has prompted concern from across the divide, with right-wing media saying it could stifle free speech, while political and religious figures expressed concern that it could isolate certain groups and in turn fuel hatred.

One of the group’s named in parliament, Cage, a London-based advocacy organisation which works with communities impacted by the ‘War on Terror’ said it was "a continuation of the decades-long strategy aimed at inciting and exploiting fears against Muslims to build an authoritarian and repressive infrastructure".

The announcement comes two weeks after Prime Minister Rishi Sunak warning that the UK was facing a "shocking increase in extremist disruption and criminality" that risked "mob rule".

His comments followed concern over a rise in of antisemitism and Islamophobic behaviour in the UK, which has been linked to Israel’s war in Gaza.

Weekly protests across the country calling for an end to the war and in solidarity with Palestinians have been a headache for the Conservative government.

Right-wing politicians have described the marches – attended by hundreds of thousands from across society – as "hate marches" and sought to pressure police forces to stop them from taking place. Former Home Secretary Suella Braverman also widened police powers to conduct more arrests at the demonstrations.

Gove said his department has consulted local authorities, civil society, and faith groups in the review process which revamps the 2011 definition from the Prevent Strategy a government programme which worked with local authorities to stop people supporting or becoming terrorists.

London mayor Sadiq Khan told BBC Radio 4 on Thursday that the new definition could "divide communities".

"My worry is by labelling these groups, many local authorities, mayors, public authorities won't engage with them and they'll go underground," Khan said.

The definition will mean public bodies are aware of the risks associated with working with the groups, and will block them applying for public grants or funding, or meeting with politicians.

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby urged caution on rewording the definition of extremism.

The head of the Church of England said that extremism was “always moving around…it happens in all sorts of faith groups and it is a very dangerous problem indeed” in an interview with the BBC on Wednesday.

But he said that the "mistake" was the government deciding it “without drawing in the groups and networks across the country".