Tories will use Counter-Extremism Bill to silence their opponents – campaigners

© Jack Taylor (AFP). Stringer
Officially announced in the Queen’s Speech on Wednesday, the Conservative government’s new Counter-Extremism Bill has been decried by campaigners as a repressive tool for curbing free speech and clamping down on opposition.

The Counter-Extremism Bill would place restrictions on the employment of people with prior convictions for hate speech and other extremism-related offenses.

The bill will also ban extremists from working with children and close loopholes so that broadcast regulator Ofcom can stop extremist material from being broadcast from abroad.

In her speech announcing the government’s legislative program Wednesday, Queen Elizabeth II said the bill would “prevent radicalization, tackle extremism in all its forms and promote community integration.”

However, Rachel Robinson, Policy Officer at civil rights charity Liberty, said the UK already has laws in place for dealing with terrorism and hate speech.

“All that’s left for these proposals to ban are people and views that the government disagrees with,” she said.

“Powers to radically curb free speech will be placed in the hands of ministers who paint their political opponents as extremists and ‘threats to national security.’”

“The fact that the government is still struggling to define the ‘extremism’ they want to ban should be a clear indication that this legislation has no place in a liberal democracy.”

Prime Minister David Cameron, in the speech’s foreword, said: “This Queen’s speech stands up for our liberal values by taking on the extremists with new powers to disrupt their activities, while protecting young people in unregulated schools from those who preach a message of intolerance and separatism.”

The Quilliam Foundation think-tank, which has previously worked with the government on its counter-extremism strategy, also spoke out against the new Bill, saying it may prove counterproductive.

“Banning will send these groups underground and make it harder for liberals to win the battle of ideas,” a Quilliam spokesperson said.

“We cannot legislate away ideas, but we can challenge them.”