Michael Gove uses parliamentary privilege to list organisations under review amid new extremism definition

14 March 2024, 13:11 | Updated: 14 March 2024, 13:40

Gove spoke about the new definition in the Commons
Gove spoke about the new definition in the Commons. Picture: Parliament TV/Getty

By Emma Soteriou

Communities Secretary Michael Gove has used parliamentary privilege to list organisations under review following the announcement of his new extremism definition.

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Mr Gove unveiled the new definition of extremism in the Commons on Thursday, using the opportunity to list groups that will be re-assessed as a result.

"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," Mr Gove said.

"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."

It comes after Mr Gove told LBC those deemed to have views based on "violence, hatred or intolerance" will be cut off from any public funding.

Mr Gove said in the past some extremist individuals have benefitted from government support and money.

The definition is "more precise" and will help the government to better decide who they'll work with, with Gove adding it will be a "rigorous" process.

Tom Swarbrick presses Michael Gove on his redefinition of 'extremism'

Groups that are covered by the new definition, which covers conduct that fails to reach the criminality threshold but is still considered "unacceptable", will be denied access to government funding.

They will also be stopped from meeting ministers and officials or from gaining a platform that could "legitimise" their views by association with government.

Speaking to LBC, PM Rishi Sunak said: "There’s been a worrying rise in the amount of extremist activity in our country that is seeking to foster hate and division and also undermine our democratic values and I think it’s right that the government has the tools it needs to protect everyone against that.

He continued: "There will be an expert body of academics and others who will help the government come to a view against the criteria that will be outlined on what constitutes extremism and not.

"I want to reassure everybody that this is not about one particular group and this is not about suppressing free speech… it is making sure that where there is activity that goes against our democratic values and is a threat to us that the government will have the tools to protect against that and not engage inappropriately with those types of organisations."

Tom Swarbrick caller claims he's part of 'extremist group' according to government's new definition

What is the new definition of extremism?

The newly-unveiled 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".

It is not yet clear which groups will be named by the government but the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) and Cage International told The Telegraph that they would consider legal challenges if named by Mr Gove.

Mr Gove, who has presided over the new definition, said it 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".

Read More: Tories have ‘rushed’ new extremism definition which could ‘become stick to beat police with’, former Met boss warns

Read More: Three ex-Home Secs urge Labour and Tories to work together on extremism as Gove's new definition looms

Both the nature and timing of the government's new definition of extremism have raised eyebrows, with some - including the Archbishop of Canterbury questioning whether it will solve the problem.

When asked whether Tory donor Frank Hester’s comments about Diane Abbott fall under the new extremism definition, Luke Tryl, UK Director of More in Common, told LBC News: “They were appalling racist comments, and saying that a member of parliament should be shot quite clearly goes against one of the fundamental tenets of our democracy, I think it was an extreme comment.

"I think what the Secretary of state has said….is that when it’s a pattern of behaviour informed by an ideology that is when it would fall under that definition but I have no hesitation in saying those comments were appalling, have no place in our democracy….and I wish the government had acted quicker to condemn them for what they were."

Andrew Marr is joined by Neil Basu to talk about the government's new definition of extremism

On Wednesday, a former assistant Met commissioner told LBC that the Government has rushed its new definition of extremism, which he says could become a "stick to beat police with".

Neil Basu, who helped to run specialist operations at the Metropolitan Police, told LBC's Andrew Marr that the redefining of extremism is a "quick reaction to a problem that has been decades in the making".

"I'm incredibly pleased that the government is taking this very seriously...but it can't be so vague as to be unworkable or discriminatory, it can't erode free speech, and it can't be such that it drives dangerous ideas underground," Mr Basu said.

"I'm concerned that it's happened too quickly and there clearly hasn't been a consensus...it's united the right, left, and the centre in its concern about what's happened. It's been too quick."

"A general policy description of who we should and should not deal with as a government or as government institutions is very different from actually preventing hateful extremism from becoming a criminal problem," Mr Basu went on.

"I don't think this goes far enough in terms of giving us a legal operating framework.

"I worry for policing that this rather nebulous policy stance will become a stick to beat police officers with, particularly at protests."

Mr Basu added that under the definition he expects to be released by government, police will be seen as either "too weak or too strong".

Ex-Assistant Met Commissioner: Extremism definition lacks 'consensus'

Angela Rayner, Labour's deputy leader and shadow communities secretary, said: "Hateful extremism threatens the safety of our communities and the unity of our country - there is no place for it in Britain.

"Labour is steadfast in our commitment to work across communities to ensure no one feels unsafe at the hands of corrosive extremism.

"This is a serious problem that needs serious action and tinkering with a new definition is not enough. The government's counter-extremism strategy is now nine years out of date, and they've repeatedly failed to define Islamophobia.

"Any suggestion that the government has been engaging with groups that they've now decided are extremists raises serious questions over why it has taken so long to act."

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