Tackling extremism 'too challenging' for UK politicians

Former Cabinet minister says policy needs a 'vigorous renewal'

A police officer arranges flowers and tributes outside Belfairs Methodist Church in Leigh-on-Sea, where Conservative MP Sir David Amess died. PA

A former UK Cabinet minister said the country’s counter extremism strategy has “lost its way” and needs to be “less woolly”.

Robert Jenrick, who was communities secretary until last month, said MPs “are too willing to turn a blind eye” to extremism and that they “consider the challenge too great”.

The government’s Prevent strategy, which seeks to intervene where there are concerns an individual is at risk of being radicalised, is currently being reviewed.

It comes amid renewed focus after the fatal stabbing of MP Sir David Amess last week.

Mr Jenrick told the BBC that now is the time for “a vigorous renewal of our policy to really confront extremism”.

He said Prevent must focus its attention on those “most likely to cause members of the public harm".

Under the programme, people such as teachers and council workers can raise concerns over an individual with the local police force. A committee then decides if the individual needs to be referred to Prevent – but, typically, their names are not passed to the UK’s domestic intelligence agency MI5.

Robert Jenrick says MPs “are too willing to turn a blind eye” to extremism. Getty Images

“We have a real problem in this country with far-right extremists, and that must be tackled – but the overwhelming majority of people who are on MI5's watch list, for example, are from the Islamist extremist side of the spectrum and so I think we need to focus again on that and get the balance right,” Mr Jenrick said.

He said that while most Britons want to live in a “pluralistic society”, a minority do not.

“We can't allow our country to go down the wrong path where we have a divided society and we allow grievances to fester.”

He said the UK “needed to be less passive in confronting extremism, and have a more muscular form of liberalism".

“I think for some reason, perhaps because of events, because ministers come and go, there hasn't been the consistency and the focus that's been necessary – and I think that's what's required now, as we renew our policy.”

Updated: October 22nd 2021, 8:42 AM