Michael Gove said the government’s program to prevent extremism was “inept” and “ineffective” because of fears in Whitehall of being branded racist or Islamophobic.
In his first political intervention since his resignation, the former cabinet minister said that as a result officials working on Prevent had not been given the “tools” to counter Islamist extremism.
This meant that organizations promoting extremism received public funds because analysis of their ideology had not been properly undertaken.
Mr Gove’s comments came as Suella Braverman, the Home Secretary, was set to publish a major and highly critical review of the Prevent program by William Shawcross, a former head of the Charity Commission.
Mr Gove said it would be a ‘key test’ for the government to treat Mr Shawcross’s report seriously and not ‘throw it into the long grass’ or dilute it so it ‘wouldn’t see not daylight”. He added: “If the government’s response is two pages published on Friday afternoon, that would be the worst.”
Lawyers are reviewing the report, which is expected to reveal that some Prevent-funded groups promoted extremist narratives, including support for the Taliban.
“Resistance from various sources”
Speaking at a meeting of the Counter Extremist Group, Mr Gove said the UK, with its “very effective police”, was among the best in the world at countering terror attacks, but had been “much weaker” in the prevention and reduction of extremism, including Islamism. was “by far the biggest threat”.
He said it was an ideology that provided a “shield and sword” to those who believed violence could be justified even if they weren’t necessarily perpetrating it themselves.
“These arguments have been made for at least two decades in Whitehall, but there has been resistance, and resistance has come from a variety of sources,” he added.
First, there were people who “just don’t want to do the job”, Mr Gove said. Second, he said there were people who believed that the mere mention of political Islam – even if it was labeled as different from the religion of Islam – meant “you are already stepping on a territory where you are Islamophobic and therefore racist and illiberal”.
This was in addition to the “strong resistance” to anyone raising it on a public platform, he said, adding: “You can be absolutely certain not only that the Islamists, but that others will attack. I have been called an Islamophobe by various historians.
“The analysis has not been undertaken”
Third, he said there were still people within the “British security apparatus” who believed there was no need to “drain the swamp” to identify extremists, but were instead prepared to waiting for the “crocodile to get to the boat” – in other words, for violent extremism to emerge.
“All of these things mean that the Prevent strategy that has been put forward has been criticized for the wrong reasons. This has been criticized as an attempt to restrict people’s freedom of expression. Not at all,” Mr Gove said.
“The right way to criticize Prevent is that it was distributed ineptly and inefficiently, so people in the civil service and elsewhere haven’t had the tools to know which organizations to support.
‘This means that organizations that actively oppose liberal democratic values have received money from the UK government because this analysis has not been undertaken.’