As published in The Financial Times:
Extremist groups face TV and social media ban in UK
Extremist preachers and far right groups will be banned from using television and social media to spread their ideology under a future Conservative government, according to plans announced by Theresa May on Tuesday.
In a speech to the Conservative party conference in Birmingham, the home secretary announced she is taking immediate control of all anti-extremism work including non-violent extremism, which used to be managed by the Department for Communities and Local Government.
In future, the Home Office will oversee the strategy covering everything from Islamic extremism to neo-Nazism – although it will be implemented across government, particularly in schools and local communities.
Ms May will focus on supporting certain Islamic faith organisations which maintain “British values”, and improved vetting to stop extremists from being appointed to positions of authority.
The changes are part of the government’s efforts to address fears raised by an alleged Islamic plot to take over some Birmingham schools.
Her speech to conference also promised that the Tory manifesto will contain new civil and criminal powers to curb extremists, which have so far been blocked by the Liberal Democrats.
The party would implement “banning orders”, making it a criminal offence to raise funds for or be a part of a group with extremist views. “Extremism disruption orders” would be used against individuals, preventing them from attending events, speaking in public, associating with named sympathisers or circulating their ideas on social media.
Ahead of Ms May’s speech, Prime Minister David Cameron said the time had come to be “intolerant of intolerance”.
“What it practically means is that up to now what we’ve done is ban organisations that are explicit about supporting violence, but have left open groups who . . . know how to just stay the right side of the line but at the same time have been poisoning the minds of young British Muslims and radicalising them to a point where they become violent,” Mr Cameron told the BBC.
He added that while some previous governments “have almost sat down and chatted to the extreme preachers”, hoping to keep them onside, that was the “wrong approach”.
“Today what we do is we take down thousands of pages from the internet, of extremist material, these ghastly beheading videos and other radicalising information,” Mr Cameron said.
Both banning orders and extremism disruption orders will require the permission of the High Court, which will have to be convinced that the groups or individuals are aiming to spread, incite, promote or justify hatred on the basis of a person’s disability, gender, race, religion, or sexual orientation “for the purpose of overthrowing democracy”.
David Davis, the former shadow home secretary, said the timing of the announcement left the party open to charges of political opportunism.
“There seems to be no evidential hurdle in this, [Ms May] says there will be a High Court override but the High Court will be confined by what is laid down by the law . . . it will be meaningless,” he told the FT.
It would apply to those who caused alarm or distress, he said, adding, “I do that every day . . . For journalists it is their professional job.”
Mr Davis cited the aphorism that the definition of free speech is to disagree with someone but to let them anyway express their views.
“We should remember what has made this country special for 200 years and not throw it away,” he said.
Ms May is also expected to confirm imminent legislation, scheduled for November, that aims to make it harder for Britons to travel to Iraq and Syria to fight with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, the group known as Isis.
Police will be given powers to seize the passports of suspected fighters, and airlines will be legally obliged to share passenger information.
Also at the party conference on Tuesday, Chris Grayling, justice secretary, will announce tougher sentences for terrorists, so that those convicted of weapons training will see their jail terms increase from 14 years to life.
“We must do whatever is necessary to protect Britain from those who would harm us”, he will say.