March 14, 2024 | RTÉ

Milo Comerford on the UK’s new extremism definition, its limitations and challenges

The UK government unveiled last week their new definition of extremism in the House of Commons. ISD’s Director of Counter Extremism Policy and Research, Milo Comerford, spoke to RTÉ on Thursday about the significance of the overdue update and the challenges it entails.

“The old definition was rooted in the notion of ‘British values’, so an extremist was someone who was actively opposed to British values; listed out as democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty,” Milo said. “This was a pretty vague definition and wasn’t really used to sort of do any meaningful work on the counter extremism domain.”

In contrast, this new definition is more specific about the behaviours and ideologies that are associated with extremism and provides “a framework for concrete action against those spreading hate and extremism online and in communities.” Milo adds that the definition is not solely focused on countering terrorism challenges but meant to get ahead of certain issues of hate impacting in communities and human rights.

The definition comes at a crucial time of increased polarisation in the UK, with hate targeting public figures and disinformation being spread further fomenting these challenges, Milo said, adding the alarming rise in antisemitism and anti-Muslim hate in the country following Hamas’ October 7 attack.

When asked about whether this definition could infringe upon freedom of speech or thought, Milo acknowledges that it is a real concern. However, he points out that there has been a lot of emphasis from the Committee Secretary to emphasise this new definition will not be used to “police thought.”

Milo explained that the challenges don’t result from the definition itself but from the way it is used and implemented. “We have seen politicians in the UK use […] [the term] extremism to refer to a much wider group of people, including climate activists and as you have said, pro-Palestinian protests. This is very concerning,” he explained.

“It is really crucial for the safeguarding of democracy to be using this term in a narrow and focused way,” he said.

Milo also emphasised the importance of the UK government engaging with communities that are “rightly concerned and feel under threat in this moment” in order to build trust and bipartisan support.

The full interview is available at RTÉ’s website.