EXPLAINER-What is Britain's new extremism definition?

Credit: REUTERS/SIMON DAWSON

LONDON, March 14 (Reuters) - Britain unveiled a on Thursday to counter a surge in hate crimes, raising some concerns it would inhibit free speech and unfairly target Muslim groups.

WHY IS THE GOVERNMENT DOING THIS?

The previous definition was in a 2011 counter-terrorism strategy programme known as Prevent. The government said this needed to be updated after a surge in antisemitic and anti-Muslim hate crimes since the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks on Israel.

Earlier this month Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said that Islamist and far-right extremists were seeking to undermine Britain's democracy.

Communities minister Michael Gove, whose department has produced the new definition, said a more precise version was needed to address the threat.

Currently, no groups have been defined as extremist.

WHAT IS THE NEW DEFINITION?

The update defines 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;

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

WHAT DOES BEING LABELLED EXTREMIST MEAN?

The government says a team of impartial officials will carry out a "rigorous" assessment in the next few weeks before announcing which groups will be labelled extremist.

Any group categorised such will be banned from receiving government funding or any other government support. Groups can seek a judicial review in the courts.

The government hopes that labelling a group extremist will make the public and other bodies shun them. Gove said it was not about banning groups but making clear who the government should not engage with.

However, Thursday's change creates no new powers and has no criminal impact. The groups would still, for example, be able to meet and hold demonstrations.

That is different to those which are specifically banned under terrorism laws, where being a member of a proscribed group or encouraging support for it is a criminal offence. Some 80 international groups are banned by Britain as terrorist organisations including Hamas.

WHAT DO CRITICS SAY?

Some critics say the policy is an assault on free speech, and could come to include those who hold gender critical views or those who oppose abortion.

Others say it will be counter-productive, targeting those who simply express strongly held opinions, particularly Muslims, or will be used to silence those with whom the government disagrees.

Those who have voiced concern range from the Archbishop of Canterbury, former government advisers and relatives and victims of militant attacks in Britain, to those within Sunak's own Conservative party.

However, the government says there will be a high bar for defining a group as extremist, targeting those neo-Nazi or radical Islamist groups which promote an ideology based on hatred or violence but fall short of committing criminal offences.

Gove has said the change would not silence those with peaceful views or affect free speech.

(Reporting by Michael Holden; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

((michael.holden@thomsonreuters.com;))

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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