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Ministers plan new community trigger as part of counter-extremism strategy

An ‘Extremism Community Trigger’ is to be introduced as part of the Government’s updated counter-extremism strategy, ministers have said.

The trigger will involve a new legal duty to ensure that police and local authorities fully review any complaints about extremism.

The strategy document, which can be viewed here, said: “They will be expected to work in partnership to tackle local extremist issues, and keep the public informed about their actions.”

The revised strategy will also see the introduction of new powers to: "ban extremist organisations that promote hatred and draw people into extremism; restrict the harmful activities of the most dangerous extremist individuals; and restrict access to premises which are repeatedly used to support extremism."

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The Government insisted that there would be strong safeguards to ensure these powers were only used in the most serious cases. Any action will need to be approved by the High Court.

“We will also produce guidance for the police, prosecutors and local authorities which will clearly set out the exceptional nature of the powers and the circumstances in which they can be used,” the strategy said.

A full review will meanwhile be carried out to ensure all institutions – such as schools, further and higher education colleges, local authorities, the NHS and the civil service – are safeguarded from entryism or infiltration by extremists.

“The review will clearly set out the risk posed and advise on measures to guard against entryism, for example by improving governance, inspection and whistle-blowing mechanisms. It will also engage charities and businesses to help them identify and tackle entryist behaviour,” the Government said.

Other proposals in the counter-extremism strategy include:

  • The Government will ensure that local authorities have “clear guidance on the full range of tools available to them to tackle extremism”. It will also review the powers available to enable government to intervene where councils fail;
  • Parents concerned that their 16 and 17-year-old children are at risk of travelling abroad under the influence of extremists will be able to apply to the Passport Office to have their passports removed;
  • Anyone with a conviction for terrorist offences or extremist activity will be automatically banned from working with children and vulnerable people. Measures will be introduced for the Disclosure and Barring Service to notify eligible employers if it has new information about extremism relevant to an employee;
  • An independent review will be commissioned to understand the extent to which Shari’a law “is being misused or applied in a way which is incompatible with the law”. An initial report is expected to be delivered in 2016;
  • The Department for Education will introduce a new system to enable intervention in unregulated education settings;
  • The Government will work in partnership with faith groups to review the training provided to those who work as faith leaders in public institutions;
  • A new network will be developed, linking individuals and groups around Britain who are standing up to extremists in their communities;
  • The Government will set out publicly the principles that will guide the whole of government when deciding whether to engage with particular individuals and groups in this country;
  • A review will be held into the rules on citizenship. The ‘good character’ requirement in citizenship applications will be strengthened “to include whether an individual has promoted extremist views, or acted in a way which undermines our values”;
  • The Government will ensure that more information on an individual’s extremist behaviour is available to the officers making visa decisions, “through better data-sharing and casework interviews where needed”. More detailed guidance will also be provided to caseworkers on the definition of extremism;
  • The Government will work with the police to ensure all forces report anti-Muslim attacks in a consistent way;
  • Ofcom’s existing powers to immediately suspend TV services that broadcast unacceptable extremist material will be extended to all radio services;
  • HM Inspectorate of Constabulary will conduct a force-level inspection on the police response to so-called Honour-Based Violence, including female genital mutilation and forced marriage;
  • Louise Casey will conduct a review into how opportunity and integration can be boosted in the most isolated communities. This report will inform funding for a new Cohesive Communities Programme in 2016.

The Home Office said that “protecting our communities by challenging extremists’ poisonous narratives and promoting the positive alternative to that twisted ideology” were the focus of the new strategy.

Home Secretary Theresa May said: “In recent times, we have seen extremists operating at an unprecedented pace and scale, seeking to divide our communities and cause great harm.

“The rise of ISIL is particularly alarming, driven in part by their sophisticated use of the internet and social media. But the threat posed by extremists is not limited to violence, nor to Islamist extremism. The rise of neo-Nazi groups, and the increase in antisemitic and anti-Muslim hatred is deeply concerning.

“Where non-violent extremism goes unchallenged, the values that bind our society together fragment. Women’s rights are eroded, intolerance and bigotry become normalised, minorities are targeted and communities become separated from the mainstream.

“Such behaviour cannot go uncontested. We will systematically confront and challenge extremist ideology, exposing it for the lie it is. And we will thwart its destructive consequences. We will disrupt all those who seek to spread hate and we will prosecute all those who break the law.

“But most importantly of all, we will stand up for all those who know that in Britain we are stronger together. Because when we join up all the voices of those who want to defeat extremism, they are louder and more powerful than the voices of those who seek to divide us.”

Responding to the Government's announcment, the Muslim Council of Britain’s Secretary General, Dr Shuja Shafi, said: “British Muslims have stood up and been counted in their opposition to terrorism. That is why we welcome effective and evidence-based initiatives to counter terrorism. The threat of terrorism is real and serious. Facing this challenge requires engagement with all sections of society particularly the diversity of British Muslim communities in an open and frank dialogue.

“Yet, today’s ‘one nation’ counter-extremism strategy continues down a flawed path, focusing on Muslims in particular, and are based on fuzzy conceptions of British values. It risks being counter-productive by alienating the very people needed to confront Al-Qaeda or Daesh-related terrorism: British Muslim communities.
For over 10 years we have had to contend with a misguided ‘conveyor-belt theory’ analysis that conflates terrorism with subjective notions of extremism and Islamic practices.”

Dr Shafi added: “Whether it is in mosques, education or charities, the strategy will reinforce perceptions that all aspects of Muslim life must undergo a ‘compliance’ test to prove our loyalty to this country. These measures could be seen more as a means to address the anxieties a minority of people may have against Muslims and their religious life, rather than the scourge of terrorism itself.

"For example, we understand that the Counter-Extremism Strategy will single out and ‘close mosques where extremist meetings have taken place’. Do such mosques really exist and by whose definition are they deemed to be extremist? We cannot help also detect the McCarthyist undertones in the proposal to create blacklists and exclude and ban people deemed to be extremist. If we are to have such lists at all, they should be determined through a transparent process and subject to judicial oversight to prevent any discrimination and political interference based on pressure from foreign governments."

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