THE UK Government has unveiled its new definition of extremism, which has been condemned as "divisive" and "potentially illegal".

Groups covered by the definition, which is designed to include conduct that falls short of criminality but is still deemed “unacceptable”, will be denied access to Government funding and prevented from meeting ministers and officials or gaining a platform that could “legitimise” them through association with the Government.

The definition describes extremism as “the promotion or advancement of an ideology based on violence, hatred or intolerance” that aims to “negate or destroy the fundamental rights and freedoms of others” or “undermine, overturn or replace the UK’s system of liberal parliamentary democracy and democratic rights”.

It also includes those who “intentionally create a permissive environment for others to achieve” either of those aims.

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The previous definition, published in 2011, described extremism as “vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and belief” as well as “calls for the death of members of our armed forces”.

Michael Gove, who has overseen the formulation of the new definition, said the new definition would “ensure that Government does not inadvertently provide a platform to those setting out to subvert democracy and deny other people’s fundamental rights”.

He added that it was the first in “a series of measures to tackle extremism and protect our democracy”.

It comes as the Communities Secretary also suggested the Tory donor Frank Hester’s alleged call for an MP to be “shot” would not be referred to the Government’s new extremism taskforce.

The businessman is alleged to have said that Diane Abbott, Britain’s first black female MP, made him “want to hate all black women” and that she “should be shot”, in comments the Prime Minister described as “racist” after initially refusing to do so.

Gove described the remarks as “horrific” but said he was exercising “Christian forgiveness”, insisting the entrepreneur had “shown contrition”.

The senior Tory told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We have to be clear, we’re looking at organisations with a particular ideology.

“The individual concerned said something that was horrific.

“I wouldn’t want to conflate those motivated by extremist ideology with an individual comment, however horrific, which has quite rightly been called out and which has quite rightly led to an apology.”

The new extremism definition comes into force on Thursday, and the Government is expected to publish a list of organisations covered by it in the coming weeks.

Groups on the list will only be able to appeal against their inclusion by launching a judicial review in the High Court.

The National: Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner campaigning with Scottish Labour's Anas Sarwar in 2023

Labour said the new definition was “not enough” and called for a full counter-extremism strategy and hate crime action plan to “turn words into action that will keep us safe”.

Angela Rayner, the party’s deputy leader and shadow communities secretary, said: “Hateful extremism threatens the safety of our communities and the unity of our country – there is no place for it in Britain.

“Labour is steadfast in our commitment to work across communities to ensure no one feels unsafe at the hands of corrosive extremism.

“This is a serious problem that needs serious action and tinkering with a new definition is not enough. The Government’s counter-extremism strategy is now nine years out of date, and they’ve repeatedly failed to define Islamophobia.

“Any suggestion that the Government has been engaging with groups that they’ve now decided are extremists raises serious questions over why it has taken so long to act.”

The overhaul of the definition follows Rishi Sunak’s impromptu speech in Downing Street on March 1 in which he warned of “forces here at home trying to tear us apart”, although work on the definition has been ongoing for a number of months.

But the prospect of redefining extremism has also raised concerns that too broad a definition could threaten freedom of speech, worship and protest.

On Wednesday, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York issued a warning that the definition could “vilify the wrong people and risk yet more division” instead of “providing clarity or striking a conciliatory tone”.

But the Government has been keen to stress that it is a narrower definition than the 2011 Prevent version, and provides a “high bar” that “only captures the most concerning of activities” and is “not about silencing those with private and peaceful beliefs”.

Gove said: “The United Kingdom is a success story – a multi-national, multi-ethnic, multi-faith democracy. It is stronger because of its diversity.

“But our democracy and our values of inclusivity and tolerance are under challenge from extremists. In order to protect our democratic values, it is important both to reinforce what we have in common and to be clear and precise in identifying the dangers posed by extremism.”

Lord Walney, the Government’s adviser on political violence and disruption, welcomed the new definition, saying: “Greater clarity in defining extremism can underpin a concerted approach across civil society to protect our country.”

But Conservative peer Baroness Warsi criticised the move, calling it a “divide and rule approach” intended to “breed division and encourage mistrust”.

The Muslim Council of Britain also attacked the proposals as “flawed”, warning that they were “undemocratic, divisive, and potentially illegal” and “may involve defining established Muslim organisations as extremist”.

Zara Mohammed, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, said: “A broad cross-section of British society will see through the Government’s divisive extremism proposals.

“Extremism is a grave concern, and we all stand in opposition to it, despite the efforts of bigots to suggest otherwise through baseless accusations.”

She added: “With elections looming, it’s unsurprising that the Government is resorting to this desperate tactic in the culture war.”

Mohammed endorsed the comments by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, calling for a “comprehensive dialogue”.

She said: “Since its inception, the Muslim Council of Britain has championed the common good, urging its affiliates to make positive contributions to our nation, foster unity, and advocate for justice for all communities. These are the shared values of Britain, even if certain members of the Government fail to recognise them.”