What is the UK government's new definition of extremism?

Description will be used to name groups that fall below the traditional terrorist threshold

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The UK government has unveiled an updated definition of extremism designed to include conduct that falls short of criminality but is still deemed “unacceptable”.

Any groups found to have met the description will have government funding and support cut.

Announcing the definition in the House of Commons on Thursday, Communities Secretary Michael Gove said the plans “will enable the government to express more clearly than ever before” groups which are considered extremist.

He added: “They will also support national efforts to counter the work of extremists who promote their ideologies both online and offline.

“The new definition will strengthen vital front line counter-radicalisation work, and the new centre of excellence will also help us to understand the role played by state actors and state-linked organisations in extremist activity which is taking place in our country.”

What is the new definition and how has it changed?

The government now considers extremism to be “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.

It was previously defined as the “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 beliefs”.

The government said the updated definition is “narrower and more precise” than the 2011 definition, which “did not provide the detail we now need to assess and identify extremism”.

Instead, the new definition helps to “clearly articulate” how extremism is “evidenced” through the public behaviour of extremists.

Have any groups been identified?

Not yet, according to Communities Secretary Michael Gove.

Speaking early on Thursday, he said there are some groups “of concern” but no decisions have been made. The government is expected to publish a list of organisations covered by it in the coming weeks.

“No decision will be made unless appropriate due diligence is undertaken,” he added.

However, Mr Gove did cite several groups causing concern in his speech to the Commons, pledging to assess whether they met the government's definition of extremism. They included right-wing groups the British National Socialist Movement and Patriotic Alternative, which he said “promote neo-Nazi ideology, argue for forced repatriation, a white ethno state and the targeting of minority groups for intimidation”.

He added: “Organisations such as the Muslim Association of Britain, which is the British affiliate of the Muslim Brotherhood, and other groups such as Cage and Mend (Muslim Engagement and Development) give rise to concern for their Islamist orientation and views. We will be holding these and other organisations to account, to assess if they meet our definition of extremism. And we will take action as appropriate.”

Mr Gove said the government is looking for an “ideology, a pattern of behaviour and a specific set of beliefs and actions”.

Why is the new definition being brought in?

The government decided to bring in an updated definition of extremism following theattack on Israel on October 7 by Hamas militants and the Israeli response, which has prompted protests and a rise in hate speech.

Mr Gove said: “I think we have seen a significant increase, both in anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim hatred on our streets and on social media as well.

“And I think it’s important when government seeks to work to counter hatred when we are working on the ground in communities with grass roots organisations, that we are able to choose our friends wisely.”

Who will decide the groups which will fall under the definition?

A group of “impartial” civil servants working in a centre of excellence will determine who falls under the definition, said Mr Gove.

“They will also use outside academic expertise to assess organisations against the criteria.

“And it’s important to say that individual organisations that we decide not to deal with still have the right to free speech, advocacy and freedom of association. So this is not about banning associations. Quite rightly, there is a much higher threshold before an organisation … is proscribed.”

What will the new counter-extremist 'centre of excellence' do?

The UK unit will be set up in the Communities Department where counter-extremism academics will work with government officials to identify extremist elements.

Mr Gove told the Commons that it will aim to become a world-leading authority on “best practice, data and research”.

What will happen to groups which meet the updated definition?

Groups covered by the definition will be denied access to government funding and prevented from meeting ministers and officials or gaining a platform that could legitimise them through association.

Is there any recourse to appeal?

No, the Secretary of State’s decision will be considered final.

What sort of reaction has it received?

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.”

However, concerns have been raised across the political divide.

Conservative peer Baroness Warsi has warned that the new definition takes a “divide-and-rule approach” that is intended to “breed division and encourage mistrust”.

The Archbishops of Canterbury and York warned that the definition could “vilify the wrong people and risk yet more division” instead of “providing clarity or striking a conciliatory tone”.

In a joint statement, Justin Welby and Stephen Cottrell said the “growing division between different communities in this country” is a threat to the country's “rich diversity”.

However, Labour has said that the updated definition was “not enough” and that a full counter-extremism strategy and hate crime action plan is needed.

The party's deputy leader Angela Rayner said the government's counter-extremism strategy is out of date and they have repeatedly failed to define anti-Muslim sentiment.

Updated: March 14, 2024, 3:04 PM