UK Prevent programme 'needs renewed focus on Islamist extremism'

Leaked draft of Prevent review says government has been too focused on far-right extremism

epa06369453 (FILE) - British police on dutyl during a vigil for the victims of the London Bridge terror attacks by the City Hall in London, Britain, 05 June 2017, (reissued 05 December 2017). Media reports on 05 December 2017 state that the report by David Anderson QC, a former terrorism law reviewer asked by the British Home Secretary to audit internal MI5 and police reviews, is published on 05 December 2017. The terror attacks in 2017 - at Manchester Arena, London Bridge, Finsbury Park and Westminster - has placed the spotlight on the British security services. The British internal security service MI5 and police launched internal reviews following the atrocities between March and June 2017 and the findings of the reviews looking at intelligence handling by the organisations are to be seen in the review published by the  Home Secretary.  EPA/FACUNDO ARRIZABALAGA *** Local Caption *** 53568746
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The British government needs a renewed focus on Islamist extremism, leaked extracts from a review of its counter-terrorism programme conclude.

William Shawcross was appointed by the government to conduct a review of its counter-extremism project Prevent and it was submitted to the UK Home Office last month.

A leak of the document reveals that Mr Shawcross has put concerns that Islamist extremism is being overlooked at the heart of his findings.

It accuses the government of a “double standard” approach to tackling different forms of extremism and says British officials must seek to deny funds to groups that are associated with or offer support to extremist outfits.

The review calls for a renewed focus on Islamist extremism and raises concerns that individuals have been referred to the programme to receive mental health support despite there being no evidence of extremism.

It also accuses some Prevent-funded groups of supporting extremist groups.

It found some programmes “have promoted extremist narratives, including statements that appear supportive of the Taliban”.

“As a core principle, the government must cease to engage with or fund those aligned with extremism,” it says, according to extracts seen by The Guardian newspaper.

The Prevent policy was introduced in 2003 but was expanded after the attacks on the London transport network on July 7, 2005, in which 52 people were killed.

It is one part of a four-pronged strategy designed to stop people being drawn into terrorism.

It has been strengthened by successive governments and now requires schools, universities, councils and hospitals to flag up concerns over suspected radicalisation.

In January 2019, the government announced a review of the programme after some Muslim leaders claimed they were being unfairly targeted and former charities regulator Mr Shawcross was appointed to lead the review in 2021.

The leaked contents of the report come after it was submitted to the Home Office last month.

In the report, Mr Shawcross raises concerns that the programme is “not sufficiently” tackling the causes of radicalisation and says it needs to re-engage with individuals who are not yet posing a terror threat but who can “create an environment conducive to terrorism”.

The government has said it plans to shake-up the programme after a series of attacks in which perpetrators had already been flagged by the counterterrorism strategy or had slipped through the net.

They include Ali Harbi Ali, who was referred to the scheme before going on to murder Sir David Amess, a ruling party MP.

UK Home Secretary Priti Patel is preparing to overhaul the Prevent strategy by stripping local councils of control.

Last month a report by the Policy Exchange think tank criticised various governments for not adequately defending the Prevent programme.

“There can be no successful Prevent programme unless the government defends it,” it said.

“The failure by governments across the political spectrum to make a convincing public case for the value of Prevent and their failure to articulate why it is important to address the challenge of Islamist ideologies, leaves a major gap in public discourse about national security and community cohesion that others seek to fill.”

The report had warned that the forthcoming Prevent review could be undermined.

“Prevent is thus at the heart of an almighty ideological tug of war between the state and its Islamist critics: William Shawcross’s forthcoming Independent Review is the latest round in this struggle,” it said.

“Whatever Shawcross concludes, the review risks being critically undermined unless there is a dramatically improved plan to speak up for the policy. As presently constituted, Prevent risks dying the death of a thousand cuts.

“Whatever the outcome and reaction to the forthcoming Independent Review of Prevent, counter-terrorism and counter-extremism strategies of some kind will still be needed, and it is almost certain that such strategies, however articulated, will continue to be attacked by Islamist and other activist groups.

“This is because it is likely — and entirely appropriate — that counter-terrorism and counter-extremism efforts will continue to seek to address the contributory factors of terrorism and extremism upstream in ideology, beliefs and values.”

The Home Office said the Prevent programme remains a “vital tool”.

“We will not allow extremists or terrorists to spread hate or sow division, and Prevent remains an important driver to help divert people away from harm,” it said.

“The independent review of Prevent, led by William Shawcross, will ensure we continue to improve our response and better protect people from being drawn into poisonous and dangerous ideologies. The report is currently being finalised and once formally received and after full consideration, the report and the government’s response to it will be published.”

Updated: May 17, 2022, 12:11 PM