After almost a decade of campaigning for an end to the highly subjective categorisation of campaigners at “domestic extremists”, Netpol has finally received confirmation that the Home Office has decided to stop using the label.
In June, we highlighted a report by David Anderson QC, a former independent reviewer of UK terrorism legislation, who had called the ‘domestic extremism’ label ‘manifestly deficient’ and indicated the Home Office was under pressure to abandon it.
“We can confirm that the Home Office has agreed to stop using the term “domestic extremism”
Now, as a result of a formal request for clarification, the Home Office has told us:
“We can confirm that the Home Office has agreed to stop using the term “domestic extremism”. Work to refine and mainstream new terminology is an ongoing process as we continuously adapt to changes in threat. The Home Office remains committed to countering all forms of terrorism and extremism, regardless of ideology.”
This is an important victory, one that reinforces the criticism we have made repeatedly that there is no clear working definition of what ‘domestic extremism’ means, let alone a legally binding set of criteria.
Over the years the police have made use of a number of definitions, all of them extremely vague and broad.
As a result, “domestic extremism”, so often used in the same context as ‘violent extremism’ or even ‘terrorism’, has encompassed any campaign using civil disobedience or direct action tactics. As we have seen with the anti-fracking movement, designating a campaign as ‘extremist’ means that all those associated with it may also find themselves labelled in this way – even if they do nothing unlawful.
Whilst broadly welcoming the Home Office’s decision, there is every indication that separately, the police continue to apply “domestic extremism” to social and political movements.
We are currently seeking clarification on this from the College of Policing and the National Police Chiefs Council
We are also worried that the “new terminology” the Home Office says it is working on may prove just as broad and ambiguous.
Research papers recently published by the government’s Commission for Countering Extremism included one that attempts to identify from a list of statements (such as “the greatest threat to democracy has always come from the far-right”) an allegedly “positive relationship between sympathy for violent extremism” and “a geopolitical outlook resembling the ‘anti-imperialist’ ideology promoted by the sectarian far-left”.
The example they focus on most is the anti-war movement, which was supported by millions of people in the UK.
As Professor David Miller recently commented in an article for Tribune, “the paper’s authors seem to imagine it extreme to oppose racism, war and the exercise of military force”.
If this is an indication of the current direction of the advice the government is receiving, it remains highly likely that any new label adopted by the Home Office will continue to classify all protest as a risk activity deserving of intensive surveillance.
If even insiders like David Anderson recognise the current terminology is “manifestly deficient”, we will continue to argue against simply substituting it with something equally opaque and impossible to define.
We are contacting the Commission on Countering Extremism seeking assurances that it recognises the criticisms of a vague classification like “domestic extremism” and does not simply replicate the same problems in its ongoing work.
For now, the decision of the Home Office is a critical first step to abandoning the “domestic extremism” label completely.
You can add your support our ‘Protest is Not Extremism’ campaign here