Scotland Yard’s counter-terrorism chief, assistant commissioner Neil Basu, has warned that the “febrile” atmosphere around Brexit could be enhancing the risk posed by far-right terrorism in the UK.
The UK is due to leave the 28-member European Union (EU) on March 29. However, the government of prime minister Theresa May is facing massive resistance from her own Conservative Party MPs as well as the opposition Labour Party over her Brexit deal.
“We saw a spike in hate crime after the referendum (in June 2016), that’s never really receded. So there’s always a possibility people are being radicalised by the kind of febrile atmosphere we’ve got at the moment,” Basu told BBC on Tuesday at the launch of a new film aimed at encouraging people to report their suspicions about all forms of terrorism.
“We want people to report anything that we think is going to lead to violent confrontation and people need to calm down and understand that we are paying very close attention to that and we will stop it wherever we see it,” said the Indian-origin Metropolitan Police Lead for Counter-Terrorism and the Head of its Specialist Operations.
Basu said there was no intelligence pointing to an increased level of attacks after Brexit, but noted: “What’s most concerning me, is its potential to divide communities and set communities against each other.
“I’m really proud to be a UK citizen in a country that is largely tolerant, and we haven’t seen an explosion in that (far-right) threat. What I’m concerned about is the creeping rise of that threat, and if we aren’t clear that we are combating that threat then that’s my concern.”
Britain’s senior-most counter-terrorism officer revealed that a record 700 terror investigations are currently taking place in the country, up from about 500 in March 2017 and that 18 terror plots had been foiled in Britain since 2017, four of which involved far-right groups and 14 of them involving Islamist terrorists.
He admitted that while extreme right-wing activity was still a “relatively small threat”, it was also “something we’ve got to pay very close attention to in this country that we don’t let that kind of far-right drift into extreme right-wing terrorism and we’re working very hard to stop that”.
He added that the possibility of a no-deal Brexit was “incredibly concerning” for police operations, warning that the UK and Europe would be in a “very bad place” if police could not exchange data or biometrics on suspected criminals and terrorists.
Basu said the Met Police was working on contingency arrangements with police forces and agencies in Europe.
“For counter-terrorism, we have a lot of bilateral relationships, it is a devolved power for countries, it is not an EU power, so we are confident that my counterparts in those 27 countries want to exchange information with us and we are working very hard to make sure we put that in place,” he said.
The new 60-second film launched by the Met Police this week shows a series of scenarios, such as a man stockpiling hazardous material and another buying weapons, before rewinding and zooming in on the danger.
In 2017 and 2018, around a fifth of the information passed to UK police from the public had a “significant” role in thwarting terror attacks, Basu said.