Home secretary Suella Braverman is preparing to set out the government’s plans to reform the counterterrorism strategy of Prevent so that the focus is brought on tackling various forms of radicalisation that lead towards terrorism.
By: Shubham Ghosh
Tougher enforcement action will be taken against Muslim outfits accused of spreading Islamic terrorism in the UK while public funds under plans to overhaul the Prevent programme will be withdrawn, it has been reported.
The Prevent programme is a government-led and multi-agency one which tries to stop individuals from becoming extremists and the police play a key role in it.
The counterterrorism strategy is set to be “reprogrammed” so that the focus is brought on tackling various forms of radicalisation that lead towards terrorism instead of picking up the signs of extremism, according to The Times.
Prevent has been accused of failing to prevent some of the worst terror attacks in recent times.
Home secretary Suella Braverman, who is known to be a hardliner on matters of national security, is preparing to set out the government’s plans for reform, the report added.
It also said that an independent review by William Shawcross, a former chair of the Charity Commission, which has been delayed by internal rows that carried over months, could be unveiled next week.
He was appointed by the government in January 2021 to conduct the review and initially, it was set to be published at the end of 2021.
In the report, he is believed to have blamed some Muslim bodies and individuals for promoting extremism. Some even benefited from taxpayers’ money as part of Prevent’s fund worth £40 million, which is supposed to encourage groups to discourage people from becoming terrorists.
The Times report cited government sources as confirming that the home office would vow to tackle these bodies and stop all their direct and indirect funding. Also, measures such as reviewing organisations’ charity status would be taken into account as part of measures to “ensure they can no longer get away with spreading extremist narratives”.
If organisations’ charity status is removed, it would cost them various benefits, including tax breaks.
The news report, however, stopped short of revealing the names of the groups for legal reasons before Shawcross’s report is unveiled.
According to research, offenders in seven of 13 cases of terror attacks that happened in the past six years were known to Prevent.
It is feared that the huge quantity of referrals that reached more than 6,400 last year are distracting the authorities from the main terrorist threats that the strategy was actually meant to identify.
Last week, official figures showed that schoolboys constituted the biggest proportion of individuals deemed most at risk of getting radicalised. The largest group of referrals, which included more than 2,100, is related to boys considered vulnerable but of “no ideology or counterterrorism risk”.
The second-largest number of referrals includes 1,309 or 20 per cent and constitutes extreme right-wing radicalisation.
It is also learnt that for the second straight year, far-right extremism was bigger than Islamist concerns — making up 1,027 or 16 per cent.
Shawcross’s report is likely to say that the focus of Prevent is far too much on right-wing extremism and at the expense of Islamism.
It could criticise the way in which the programme has become an “extension of social services”.
To cite an example, an 11-year-old student was once referred to Prevent after a teacher mistook the word “alms” for “arms” during a class debate.
When the teacher, who referred the boy, had asked the class what they would do if they found themselves with unlimited money, the pupil said that he would “give alms to the oppressed”. The teacher thought it was “give arms to the oppressed”.
The Shawcross report is expected to recommend reforming the way Prevent is structured so that it becomes more effective at identifying individuals who are most likely to turn to extremism, The Times report added.
One of the reforms could be to include at least one person with a law-enforcement background in every panel responsible for assessing individuals requiring close monitoring. That person could be from the police or a counterterrorism or a former intelligence services official.
The review could also recommend that MI5 and counterterrorism police should be given greater influence in deciding whether to intervene with individuals. Curbing the role of local agencies and community bodies in deciding whether those flagged are at risk of radicalisation could also be another step.
“The government is currently reviewing the recommendations of the independent review and will publish the report and our response in due course,” a government official said.
“It is only right that the government takes the time to prepare and deliver a considered response.”
Braverman is expected to accept the recommendations and the reforms are likely to take effect later in 2023.