Withdraw review of Prevent anti-radicalisation strategy, ministers urged

·3-min read
<span>Photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA</span>
Photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA

More than 200 civil society organisations, community leaders and academics have called on the UK government to withdraw a controversial review of the Prevent programme, part of its counter-terrorism strategy.

The Home Office accepted all 34 recommendations in the review from William Shawcross, a former chair of the Charity Commission who concluded that the Prevent programme should focus more on Islamist rather than far-right terrorism.

However, it was boycotted by groups including Amnesty International, while critics have pointed to a surge in far-right activity.

Critics including Amnesty International, Liberty, Runnymede Trust, Child Rights International Network and many Muslim civil society organisations on Tuesday issued a joint statement calling on Shawcross’s review to be withdrawn.

They argue it is “ideologically shaped” and increases the threat of discrimination, raises concerns about child protection and the right to free speech.

It comes a day before the security minister, Tom Tugendhat, and the Prevent director, Michael Stewart, are to be questioned by parliament’s home affairs committee in an evidence session about the Prevent review.

Meanwhile, a report by Dr Layla Aitlhadj of the organisation Prevent Watch, which has compiled hundreds of cases of people affected by the Prevent programme, is also published on Tuesday. The report is co-authored by the academic Prof John Holmwood. An advisory panel of lawyers and academics supervised the findings.

The 72-page report says:

  • Implementing Shawcross’s findings means endorsing ideologically led policy with no legal accountability or parliamentary oversight.

  • Implementing Shawcross’s findings means supporting claims about increased threats of Islamic extremism without including data to back up these claims in the review.

  • Continuing to implement the Prevent programme will lead to perpetuating further harms against children and vulnerable adults.

  • The argument that Prevent should focus less on rightwing extremism and more on “‘Islamist” extremism is explicitly discriminatory.

The report states that Prevent poses a serious threat to civil liberties and urges both houses of parliament to join the calls for the Shawcross review to be withdrawn.

Aitlhadj said: “At least six children are referred to Prevent every school day. Shawcross reinforces the fact that Prevent is not safeguarding yet he fails to take this to its logical conclusion, which is to remove it from schools.”

Holmwood said: “Not only has Mr Shawcross fulfilled the prediction of over 100 groups that boycotted his review that this was only a political exercise, but his report signals that the ‘independent review’ process is now a means of influence rather than of actual review. This is a subversion of the democratic process and a slide into authoritarianism. As such we call for the Shawcross report to be withdrawn.”

A UK government spokesperson said: “The government’s first duty is to protect the public and the independent review of Prevent is strengthening our fight against radicalisation.

“This inaccurate report provides no viable alternative to preventing radicalisation in the UK. Countries across Europe and beyond have developed preventative programmes inspired by the Prevent model.

“Attempting to encourage disengagement with the programme is irresponsible and dangerous. Islamist terrorism remains the primary terrorist threat to the UK. Working with Muslim communities, who overwhelming reject these violent ideologies, is crucial to our approach.

“Prevent activity must be proportionately directed to address this, while remaining vigilant against all other threats including the extreme rightwing.”