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Far-right groups could exploit Brexit atmosphere, says counter-terror chief

22nd Feb 2019
Far-right groups could exploit Brexit atmosphere, says counter-terror chief

(Photo: Creative Commons)

Nadine Osman

The UK’s most senior counter-terrorism police officer has warned that the conflict-ridden mood besieging the county’s exit from the European Union (Brexit) could be exploited by far-right groups.

In an interview with the BBC on January 23, Head of Counter Terrorism Command, Deputy Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu, cautioned Brexit had the “potential to divide communities and set communities against each other.”

Amid this “febrile” atmosphere there was the possibility of a “far-right drift into extreme right-wing terrorism,” added Basu.

Basu said that after the 2016 referendum there was a rise in “hate crime,” “far-right rhetoric” and “growth of (far-right) organisations like National Action.”

He added that police were “concentrating very heavily” to ensure this “creeping” threat did not get a “foothold” in the country.

That said, far-right terror was still a “relatively small threat” compared to that posed by “Islamist” groups like al-Qaida and ISIS in recent years, he said.

Basu’s warning about far-right activities comes three months after a report from the Home Office showed that religious hate crime has rocketed by 40 per cent in a year across England and Wales, as the number of offences recorded hits a record high.

The report released on October 16, 2018, revealed that more than half of religiously-motivated attacks in 2017-18 were directed at Muslims and the next most commonly targeted group was Jewish people.

Police recorded a total of 94,098 hate crime offences – more than double the total five years ago – and all categories saw a rise.

On January 7 lawmakers wrote to London’s Met Police Commissioner Cressida Dick voicing concern about the growing ‘ugly element of individuals with strong far-right and extreme right connections,’ verbally attacking MPs and journalists outside Westminster.

A cross-party group of at least 55 MPs signed the formal letter to Dick criticising a ‘lack of co-ordination’ in the response from the police and appropriate authorities.

The MPs said: ‘We write to express our serious concerns about the deteriorating public order and security situation in and around the exterior of the parliamentary estate including College Green.

‘After months of peaceful and calm protests by groups representing a range of political views on Brexit, an ugly element of individuals with strong far right and extreme right connections – which your officers are well aware of – have increasingly engaged in intimidating and potentially criminal acts targeting Members of Parliament, journalists, activists and members of the public.’

The letter followed widely shared footage of Conservative MP Anna Soubry being called a “Nazi” and “fascist” by a group of thugs as she walked into Parliament. During the 2016 Brexit referendum campaign, Labour MP Jo Cox was fatally shot and stabbed by a man with extreme right-wing views.

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