The Home Secretary has been accused of a McCarthy-style witch-hunt after proposals were announced that would see radical preachers and campaign groups expressing extreme but legal opinions being outlawed from involvement with public sector bodies including schools.
Theresa May said Whitehall was drawing up a “banned list” of individuals and organisations in an effort to avoid a repeat of the “Trojan horse” affair in which Birmingham schools were infiltrated by hardline Islamists. The move brought charges of McCarthyism where people with views unpalatable to mainstream thought would be targeted.
Ms May also set out other plans for thwarting the spread of extremist ideology amid fears that it is responsible for radicalising teenagers and young adults. The measures are likely to be incorporated in the Conservative general election manifesto.
More than 600 British jihadis are believed to have headed to Syria to join Isis.
The list of banned groups is being compiled by the Home Office’s “extremism analysis unit”. Ms May said it would set out “clearly for the first time with which individuals and organisations the Government and public sector should and should not engage”.
She added: “This will make sure nobody unwittingly lends legitimacy or credibility to extremists, and will make it very clear that government should engage with people directly and through their elected representatives – not just through often self-appointed and unrepresentative community leaders.”
The Home Secretary had hoped to win Cabinet backing for other measures, but ran into opposition from party colleagues who argued the plans were not yet finalised.
Outlining proposals for an incoming Tory administration, she said it would give the authorities the power to shut down mosques which provide a platform to “messengers of hate”. The threshold under which extremist groups are outlawed would be lowered, while individuals would face civil “extremism disruption orders”.
So-called “extremism officers” would be appointed in prisons to try to combat radicalisation behind bars by Islamist gangs and a review ordered into the application of sharia in England and Wales.
The moves would be combined with a “positive campaign to promote British values” and extra money for English language lessons.
The Muslim commentator Mohammed Ansar attacked the “blacklist” proposal. He claimed that “anti-Muslim McCarthyism” had reached a new low ahead of the general election.
Peter Tatchell, the human rights campaigner, tweeted: “UK govt to ban hate preachers. How do you define hate? Danger of McCarthyism. Threat to free speech.” The Islamic Human Rights Commission accused Mrs May of playing the Islamophobia card and of attempting to “curtail the fundamental rights of Muslims under the pretext of combating extremism”.