Rishi Sunak’s plan to widen definition of extremism to include people who ‘vilify’ Britain slammed as attack on free speech

“It is straying into thought crimes and political opinions.”

A photo of Rishi Sunak leaving Downing Street

Rishi Sunak has come up with a new grand plan to reverse his fortunes in the Tory leadership race, after falling further behind in the race to replace Boris Johnson.

His bright idea? To widen the definition of extremism to include people who ‘vilify Britain’ and then have them referred to the government’s Prevent programme for deradicalisation.

An incredibly cynical and dangerous policy and one that’s already been condemned by a former counter-terrorism police chief.

Sir Peter Fahy, former counter terrorism chief and chief constable of Greater Manchester police, said that Sunak’s proposals risk “straying into thought crimes” and are potentially damaging to national security.

He questioned the precise meaning of ‘vilification’ and told the Guardian: “The widening of Prevent could damage its credibility and reputation. It makes it more about people’s thoughts and opinions.

“It is straying into thought crimes and political opinions.”

He added: “Political opposition is not where police should be, it is those who pose a serious threat and risk of violence, not those opposed to political systems.”

How then does this latest policy exactly square with the Tory desire to protect freedom of speech and expression? Who are the real snowflakes?

Sunak also risks politicising the Prevent scheme further. Muslim communities have criticised it previously for stifling free speech and leading to self-censoring. Indeed, a report published by the Higher Education Policy Institute noted that the “current single biggest threat to free speech on UK campuses currently comes from the government’s own Prevent programme”.

Author of the report Corey Stoughton, an advocacy director at human rights group Liberty, said Prevent had a “demonstrable chilling effect on free speech in universities”.

Sunak also says that he wants to refocus the Prevent scheme on the threat from Islamist extremism, a threat that should no doubt be taken seriously and combatted. At the same time, over 50% of Prevent referrals are for far-right extremism. The question then arises, is Sunak proposing to override police assessment of the risk?

Reacting to news of Sunak’s proposals online, author Sathnam Sanghera tweeted: “Lord. Possibly not long now until historians and people like me get reported to Prevent for not glorifying British history. It’s a beautiful twist that this would happen under an Asian PM. Well done everyone.”

Richard Murphy, professor of Accounting at the University of Sheffield, tweeted: “Sunak wants to widen the definition of “extremism” to include those who “vilify” Britain. Given the Tories think they define Britain I’ve a strong suspicion that I (amongst many) will have a place reserved for me in some camp of Sunak’s choosing for “re-education”, quite soon.”

Basit Mahmood is editor of Left Foot Forward

As you’re here, we have something to ask you. What we do here to deliver real news is more important than ever. But there’s a problem: we need readers like you to chip in to help us survive. We deliver progressive, independent media, that challenges the right’s hateful rhetoric. Together we can find the stories that get lost.

We’re not bankrolled by billionaire donors, but rely on readers chipping in whatever they can afford to protect our independence. What we do isn’t free, and we run on a shoestring. Can you help by chipping in as little as £1 a week to help us survive? Whatever you can donate, we’re so grateful - and we will ensure your money goes as far as possible to deliver hard-hitting news.

Comments are closed.