Ministers review extremism label as police arrest protesters for ‘hate crimes’

Ministers review extremism label as police arrest protesters for ‘hate crimes’

Ministers are reviewing the definition of extremism in a move that could reportedly allow councils and police forces to cut off funding to charities and religious groups found to have aired hateful views.

Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove is understood to have ordered officials to draw up a new official definition of extremism in a move designed to counter hate, including antisemitism.

It comes after nine people were arrested in central London during a mainly peaceful pro-Palestine demonstration on Saturday, with at least 100,000 protesters calling for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war.

Seven of those were alleged public order offences, a number of which are being treated as hate crimes, while two are for suspected assaults on officers.

The Metropolitan Police on X, formerly Twitter, confirmed it was reviewing a potential “hate crime incident” in Trafalgar Square following chanting that referenced the Medieval Battle of Khaybar, referring to a massacre of Jews in 628 by Islamic forces.

Officers also followed-up on reports that a pamphlet was being sold along the route of the march that praised Hamas, the force confirmed on social media.

Hamas, which carried out a deadly attack on Israel on October 7 during which Palestinian militants killed 1,400 people, is a proscribed terror organisation in the UK, with expressions of support for it banned.

In a development first reported by The Sunday Telegraph, officials in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities are examining a suggested new definition of hateful extremism.

The work is understood to have started before violence flared up again in the Middle East.

The Whitehall department is considering definitions published in 2021 as part of a report Sir Mark Rowley, now head of the Met, was involved with.

The report urged ministers to do more to eradicate extremism, with the official watchdog, the Commission for Countering Extremism, concluding then that gaps within current legislation had left it harder to tackle “hateful extremism”.

Separately, the Home Office is examining potential changes to terrorism legislation, The Sunday Telegraph reported.

The pro-Palestinian protests in the UK, with other demonstrations taking place in Manchester, Glasgow and Belfast — and another scheduled in Bristol on Sunday — took place against a backdrop of a worsening picture in the Middle East.

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his nation that the military has opened a “second stage” in the war against Hamas by sending ground forces into Gaza and expanding attacks from the ground, air and sea.

He said these will only increase ahead of a broad ground invasion into the 25-mile territory.

Israel Palestinians
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the war with Hamas was entering a second stage (Abir Sultan/Pool Photo via AP)

Mr Netanyahu added: “It will be long and difficult. We are ready.”

An Israeli bombardment, described by Gaza residents as the most intense of the war, has knocked out most communications in the strip.

It has largely cut off the besieged enclave’s 2.3 million people from the world and each other.

The Palestinian death toll in Gaza on Saturday rose to just over 7,700 people since the war started three weeks ago, according to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry.

A No 10 source said Prime Minister Rishi Sunak had been briefed on developments in the war throughout the weekend.

The increase in fighting has put pressure on Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer to change his stance on the conflict.

The Opposition leader is supporting the Conservative UK Government’s diplomatic push for “humanitarian pauses” in the fighting to allow aid into Gaza and for people trapped in the bombarded territory to leave.

But a host of shadow ministers on Saturday broke ranks to voice their support for a ceasefire.

Sir Keir’s team declined to answer when asked if the frontbenchers pushing publicly for a ceasefire, including the likes of shadow Home Office minister Jess Phillips and shadow solicitor general Andy Slaughter, would be able to remain in post, having deviated from Labour’s official position.