Published On: 14th March 2024

The Government today announced plans to re-define what the state considers extremism to be. Paul Heron Legal Director at PILC looks at these worrying developments.

Photo: Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona

There is little doubt that the Government is in crisis. It is clear for everyone to see. They are not only running out of ideas – it is a Government that is deeply unpopular.

The inspiring demonstrations organised by the Palestine Solidarity campaign, Stop the War Coalition and others have laid bare Britain’s role in supporting the genocide in Gaza. This mass movement has delegitimised the UK Government position in relation to their opposition to a permanent ceasefire, and has exposed its role on the United Nations Security Council in voting to abstain during crucial votes.

The claims by Ministers that the regular mass peaceful demonstrations in support of Palestine are ‘hate marches’ have been found to be wanting. The demonstrations are peaceful and inclusive. Every month hundreds of thousands march together calling for peace and to stop the slaughter of Palestinians.

Yet despite this today the Communities Secretary Michael Gove announced a plan to ban individuals and groups who “undermine the UK’s system of liberal democracy” from public life. As part of this plan there is a new definition of extremism that will ban organisations from meetings and engagements with ministers, senior civil servants and from funding. The expectation is that local councils will be expected to fall in line.

According to Gove’s new definition, extremism consists of: “the promotion or advancement of an ideology based on violence, hatred or intolerance, that aims to:

1. negate or destroy the fundamental rights and freedoms of others; or

2. undermine, overturn or replace the UK’s system of liberal parliamentary democracy and democratic rights; or

3. intentionally create a permissive environment for others to achieve the results in (1) or (2).”

Alongside the announcement today, Gove launched a new ‘Counter-Extremism Centre of Excellence’ which will be used to gather intelligence and identify extremist groups.

The new  definition of extremism is particularly broad. It will include anyone or any organisation that is perceived to ‘undermine’ UK interests. This will lead to a very broad brush of organisations that will be captured it. Today Gove named Cage, the Muslim Association of Britain and Mend, and the official list will published in a couple of weeks.

Cage issued a joint statement with Palestine Action, Black Lives Matter UK, Sisters Uncut, Netpol and other groups stating: “[Gove’s] announcement is a continuation of the decades-long strategy aimed at inciting and exploiting fears against Muslims to build an authoritarian and repressive infrastructure that suppresses any dissent that is not licensed by Whitehall.”

The Government is using this latest policy to fabricate enemies. Today’s fabricated enemies are Muslims, immigrants, and campaigners supporting Palestinian rights. The attempt in these Government proposals is to keep us in a perpetual state of fear, and these attempts (along with others) are designed to implicate entire communities as ‘enemies.’ Then, in the name of making us safer, the Government is attempting to repress dissent, legislate draconian laws, curtail freedom and use law as a means of social and economic control.

These proposals are not an attempt to defend democracy and freedom of speech. These proposals are made in the name of democracy, to stifle it.

Alongside our partners we will be looking at how these proposals can be challenged.