UK: New Definition of Extremism Announced

Mar 21, 2024 | Threat Analysis, Threat Landscape

Author: Becca Stewart ASyI, 
Threat Analyst 

Read Time: 3 minutes 

On 14 March 2024, the UK Government announced a new definition of extremism. The new definition is “narrow and sharper” than its predecessor and will enable the government to publish a list of groups they deem to be extremist. The purpose of the definition is not to criminalise those groups, but would instead block certain groups from receiving government funding and meeting with government officials. The government also announced that a new counter-extremism centre of excellence has been established in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to provide the government with the tools it needs to effectively counter extremism. {1}

Following the announcement, Levelling Up secretary Michael Gove highlighted five initial groups of concern that will be assessed again the new definition, including two right-wing groups – Patriotic Alternative and British National Socialist Movement – and three Islamic organisations – the Muslim Association of Britain, CAGE, and Muslim Engagement and Development (MEND). {2} Michael Gove has insisted the reform is not aimed at those “exercising their proper right to free speech”, including gender critical campaigners, those with conservative religious beliefs, trans activists or environmental protest groups. {3}
The new definition is as follows: {4}

“Extremism is 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).”

Event Assessment

    • There is a realistic possibility that, despite reassurances, the new definition of extremism could lead to infringements on democratic protest and free speech. For example, those expressing controversial views could risk being labelled ‘extremist’, or feel the need to self-censor to avoid an extremist label.
      • There is a realistic possibility that the new definition of extremism could further marginalise aggrieved individuals, making them more vulnerable to radicalisation, and at worst, more likely to conduct violent acts. The former head of Counter Terrorism Policing Neil Basu has previously highlighted his own concerns that suppressing protest acts could increase the risk of terrorism. {6} By discouraging the option of protest as a method for those with more extreme (but not terrorist) views to air their grievances, the new definition of extremism could lead certain individuals to use violence in order to achieve their aims.
        •  Additionally, there is a realistic possibility that some individuals or groups labelled as extremist could prioritise communicating their grievances online, heightening their risk of radicalisation within extremist echo chambers.
      • It is highly likely that any group labelled as extremist according to the new definition would oppose their inclusion on the list of extremist groups and as such would seek to appeal the decision through legal or other means. Media reporting suggests that one of the groups highlighted for consideration against the new extremism definition is already preparing a court case to dispute their extremism designation. {7}
        •  The debate surrounding the definition of extremism is likely to persist amidst the 2024 British general election, as political parties declare their support or opposition for the new definition. There is a realistic possibility that debate surrounding the definition could contribute to the already heightened political climate surrounding the election, and at worst, could lead to an increased terrorism threat.

        Intelligence Cut-Off Date: 21 March 2024

          PHIA Scale

          The “Probability Yardstick” (below) is a standardised instrument used to provide professional intelligence assessments. Judgements made using the yardstick are relative and reflect the analyst’s confidence in their findings and assessments.

            • Almost Certain: An event is assessed to have a greater than 90% chance of occurring.
            • Highly Likely: An event is assessed to have a 76% to 90% chance of occurring.
            • Likely: An event is assessed to have a 55% to 75% chance of occurring.
            • Realistic Possibility: An event is assessed to have a 40% to 54% chance of occurring.
            • Unlikely: An event is assessed to have a 25% to 39% chance of occurring.
            • Highly Unlikely: An event is assessed to have an 10% to 24% chance of occurring.
            • Remote Chance: An event is assessed to have a less than 10% chance of occurring.

            Time Spans

              • Short Term: 0 – 6 Months.
              • In the next 12 months.
              • Medium Term: 12 months – 5 Years.
              • Long Term: 5+ Years.

          Author: Becca Stewart ASyI,
          Threat Analyst

          Read Time: 3 minutes

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