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Since the terrorist attacks in New York on 11 September 2001, the UK’s approach to combating terrorism has evolved from focusing on the threat posed by foreign nationals affiliated with Al-Qaida and related groups, to the threat from “home grown” terrorists. In recent years, government policy has increasingly sought to confront the underlying causes of terrorist behaviour, including extremist ideologies.

The Prevent strategy, part of the Government’s wider counter-terrorism strategy CONTEST, seeks to deal with those individuals and groups promoting division and hatred, and with the factors that predispose individuals or groups to respond to terrorist ideologies. Inherited from the previous Labour Government, the strategy was recast in 2011 under the Coalition Government in order to separate out the community-based integration work from the more direct counter-terrorism activities. Under Prevent public sector organisations are subject to a duty to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism. This duty was recently placed on a statutory footing by the Counter-terrorism and Security Act 2015, together with guidance setting out how different sectors should play their part in implementing the strategy.  

In May 2015, the newly formed Conservative Government announced proposals to introduce a new Extremism Bill aimed at addressing non-violent forms of extremism. Measures would have included new civil orders to ban extremist groups, restrict the behaviour of extremist individuals, and to close down premises used for extremist purposes. The Bill would also have provided Ofcom with powers to censor extremist content, and enable employers to conduct checks on employees for involvement in extremism.

The proposals proved controversial and the Bill did not materialise as expected. In October 2015 a new Counter-Extremism Strategy was published. This made further mention of the measures announced in the 2015 Queen’s Speech, but did not reveal when legislation might be expected. In May 2016 a Counter-Extremism and Safeguarding Bill was announced in the Queen’s Speech including a range of similar measures. However, no detailed proposals emerged.

In the wake of the recent terrorist attacks in Westminster, Manchester, London Bridge and Finsbury Park, the Government’s counter-terrorism strategy, which includes counter-extremism, has come to the fore of the agenda.

On 21 June 2017, the Queen’s Speech announced the establishment of a new Commission for Countering Extremism, as well as a review of counter-terrorism powers and a commitment to tackling online extremist content.

Counter-extremism will undoubtedly be a crucial issue for the new Parliament, which will face difficult questions about how to tackle this complex problem.

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