Independent reviewer of terrorism laws advises government to back down on manifesto promise to ban Islamist group
The counter-terrorism watchdog has recommended that the government back down on a manifesto promise to ban a British radical Islamist group.
In a report submitted to parliament, David Anderson QC, the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, says he does “not recommend changes to the system for proscription” that would allow the non-violent organisation Hizb ut-Tahrir to be banned.
As recently as May this year, David Cameron was explicit about his desire to see the group banned. In reply to a question from the Labour MP and former home secretary Alan Johnson, he said: “We are clear that we must target groups that promote extremism, not just violent extremism. We have proscribed one or two groups. I would like to see action taken against Hizb ut-Tahrir, and that review is under way.”
It is understood that Anderson’s review is likely to force the government into a U-turn over the issue. In his report Anderson said there were “formidable difficulties” to changing the proscription system, “which appear amply to justify the decision to stick with the status quo”.
In the aftermath of the 7 July attacks Tony Blair promised to ban HT but failed to get around legal obstacles. Currently only groups involved in violence or those directly “glorifying terrorism” can lawfully be banned.
In opposition, Cameron raised the issue during Gordon Brown’s first prime minister’s question time, asking: “We think it [Hizb ut-Tahrir] should be banned – why has this not happened?” In 2009 Cameron again upbraided Brown for not banning the group.
The Tory 2010 election manifesto was explicit in its promise to ban the group. It stated that a Conservative government would “ban any organisation which advocates hate or the violent overthrow of our society, such as Hizb-ut-Tahrir.”
Tory ministers have backed the pledge to ban the group. In 2009 the then shadow home secretary, Chris Grayling, said in a speech to his party conference: “I will immediately ban Hizb ut Tahrir.”
In November of that year, the shadow education minister, Michael Gove, said a Tory government would proscribe the group, which has branches in dozens of other countries around the world.
Last month a brigadier in the Pakistani army was arrested over his suspected links with Hizb ut-Tahrir. The incident caused international concern about Islamist infiltration of the military in a nuclear-armed state. The Pakistani branch of Hizb ut-Tahrir was supported heavily by the UK branch during its inception in the late 1990s.
Anderson told the Guardian he believed that the government would ultimately drop its plans to ban the group. “I’m not part of the government … but I’m aware that it has been very carefully looked at … and I’m not aware of any immediate plans to put them on the list,” he said.
Lord Carlile, the previous counter-terrorism reviewer, told the Guardian he was not aware of any plans to ban the group and believed that the government would be forced into a U-turn. “I don’t think anything is going to happen … I think the general view is that Hizb ut-Tahrir are best dealt with in public debate rather than by proscription,” he said.
The anti-radicalism thinktank the Quilliam Foundation said it thought the government would quietly drop plans to ban the organisation. “My understanding is that they are thinking it is less of a good idea than it seemed at the time in opposition,” a Quilliam spokesperson said.
“That’s partly that’s because legally it is quite difficult if the group isn’t actually conducting violence in the UK. Having nasty opinions is not a good enough reason legally to ban them.”
The spokesperson said the organisation – which has previously stated in its literature that Muslims should “kill Jews wherever they find them” – was in terminal decline. “[In the last couple of years] HT has declined massively. It is far less influential than it was. They had their annual conference in Tower Hamlets recently and the turnout was 200 people, down from several thousand four years ago. This is a group that is rushing towards extinction.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “We welcome David Anderson’s thorough and considered report – his first on the operation of the terrorism acts since becoming the independent reviewer. He has raised a number of issues and made detailed recommendations which we will consider carefully and respond to formally in the autumn.”
Previously the Home Office has said it does “not routinely comment on whether an organisation is or is not under consideration for proscription”.