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Gove unveils new extremism definition to tackle ‘challenge’ to democracy

14 Mar 2024 5 minute read
Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Michael Gove . Photo Victoria Jones/PA Wire

The Government has unveiled its new definition of extremism amid rising concern about threats to social cohesion and British democracy.

Groups covered by the definition, which is designed to include conduct that falls short of criminality but is still deemed “unacceptable”, will be denied access to Government funding and prevented from meeting ministers and officials or gaining a platform that could “legitimise” them through association with the Government.

The definition describes extremism as “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’s system of liberal parliamentary democracy and democratic rights”.

It also includes those who “intentionally create a permissive environment for others to achieve” either of those aims.

The previous definition, published in 2011, described extremism as “vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and belief” as well as “calls for the death of members of our armed forces”.

Communities Secretary Michael Gove, who has overseen the formulation of the new definition, said the new definition would “ensure that Government does not inadvertently provide a platform to those setting out to subvert democracy and deny other people’s fundamental rights”.

He added that it was the first in “a series of measures to tackle extremism and protect our democracy”.

New definition

The new definition comes into force on Thursday, and the Government is expected to publish a list of organisations covered by it in the coming weeks.

Groups on the list will only be able to appeal against their inclusion by launching a judicial review in the High Court.

The overhaul of the definition follows Rishi Sunak’s impromptu speech in Downing Street on March 1 in which he warned of “forces here at home trying to tear us apart”, although work on the definition has been ongoing for a number of months.

But the prospect of redefining extremism has also raised concerns that too broad a definition could threaten freedom of speech, worship and protest.

On Wednesday, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York issued a warning that the definition could “vilify the wrong people and risk yet more division” instead of “providing clarity or striking a conciliatory tone”.

But the Government has been keen to stress that it is a narrower definition than the 2011 Prevent version, and provides a “high bar” that “only captures the most concerning of activities” and is “not about silencing those with private and peaceful beliefs”.

Mr Gove 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.”

Defining extremism

Lord Walney, the Government’s adviser on political violence and disruption, welcomed the new definition, saying: “Greater clarity in defining extremism can underpin a concerted approach across civil society to protect our country.”

But Conservative peer Baroness Warsi criticised the move, calling it a “divide and rule approach” intended to “breed division and encourage mistrust”.

Thursday’s announcement comes against a background of rising antisemitic and Islamophobic incidents since the October 7 attacks in Israel.

The Community Security Trust, which provides security for the Jewish community, recorded a 147% increase in antisemitic incidents in 2023, while the national project Tell Mama has recorded a 335% increase in anti-Muslim hate cases in the last four months.

Separately, a poll for the think tank More in Common found 25% of the public thought the UK was unsafe for Muslims and 35% thought it was unsafe for Jews.

Extremist ideologies

Mr Gove added: “The pervasiveness of extremist ideologies has become increasingly clear in the aftermath of the October 7 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.”

The More in Common poll, carried out between March 8 and 11, also found support for tougher action against those who promote hate or cause significant disruption during protests, but did not want to see protests banned altogether.

Luke Tryl, director of More in Common, said: “These findings should act as a wake-up call signalling that the public is deeply concerned about Islamist and far-right extremism, and they expect the Government, police and others to take action to tackle extremism and those who peddle hate.”

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30 days ago

Are they going to kick Truss and Braverman out and censor Anderson, and hand back the 10 million and who else is always tub thumping about boats in Wales supporting Braverman and Truss? Johnson meeting with ex KGB, Lebedev in the HoL, they still selling arms to Saudi? Many Tory party members support Trump, that violent insurrectionist. How many Tory frequent the Heritage foundation in the US? How many far right think tanks are onto the Tory party…. ah, there we have it, the think tanks. Are driving this, Gove was never on his own with policies ever since he… Read more »

30 days ago

Does this new definition include people who think black female MPs should be shot? Not if they give you £10 million it doesn’t!

30 days ago

Even Plaid Cymru could be said to be seeking to overturn the UK system by advocating independence for Wales.

Barry Pandy
Barry Pandy
30 days ago
Reply to  Mawkernewek

That must mean I’m an extremist, given that I support Welsh independence. I’m also a member of those well known extremist organisations and Plaid Cymru.

Oh and I once looked at the Liberty and Republic websites.

30 days ago

The wording ” undermine overturn or replace ” describes the aims of all partys wanting independence, that would make Plaid, SNP and Sinn Fein directly in the line of fire when this act is passed. Look out for even more dirty tricks from the ” British establishment ” in the future.

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
30 days ago

Gove still running his moral maze for dummies end of the pier show…first The Mail then The BBC now the Wizard of Downing Street…how did he do it ?

Dai Ponty
Dai Ponty
30 days ago

Well you can describe the Tory Party EXTREMIST with the comments from their M P.s their policies

30 days ago

As some who wants democracy amd not Empire crime Royals still part of the sytem, I must be an extremist. Welsh indy support must put me on a list somewhere now. Extremism right now is Tory policy. From less Welsh MP’s, to restrictions on marches and strikes. Or hand in hand with bad donors and their racist views tolerated and governing for their chums and not the electorate, and not even pretending they do anymore. The Tories are stacked with bigots who threaten decent life for all. The right of politics right now has show anti Muslim, anti semitism and… Read more »

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