Setting MI5 on far-right extremists isn’t the welcome news some are making it out to be

Glen Black

The Guardian reported on 28 October that state security agency MI5 will receive remit to monitor “far right extremism”. Some people on social media quickly celebrated the news. But it’s not as welcome as some are making it out to be.

MI5 take over

As reported by the Guardian, the responsibility for tracking “extreme rightwing activity… suspected of amounting to terrorism” currently falls to the police. But months of high-level government and police discussions mean MI5 will be given the reins. The Guardian said this move comes:

amid mounting fears that white supremacists are increasing their efforts to foment violent racial conflict on Britain’s streets

It will place the far right at the top of terrorism matters, alongside Islamist and Northern Ireland-related terrorism. But far-right threats aren’t yet considered to be as “severe” as those posed by Islamist extremism.

The change means MI5 will identify suspects, plots, and threat levels. But police – specifically the counter-terrorism squad SO15will take the lead on ‘disrupting plots’ and making arrests.

“About time”

Some on social media welcomed this news:

And this point of view is understandable. Because the far right is growing across the UK. With this growth, murders and other horrific attacks committed by the far right have increased. One tweet sums up why people are welcoming the move:

But MI5 isn’t squeaky clean. And the agency’s past and present has led some people to question the value of the announcement.

The danger

Netpol, which monitors and resists repressive policing, said:

Others have echoed this:

The problematic history of the UK’s approach to ‘extremism’ is most starkly revealed in the ongoing spycops scandal. Authorisation for extreme measures gave dozens of undercover police officers the chance to cause immense harm. This included sexual abuse and direct involvement in criminal acts while they were part of social and ecological justice groups.

Meanwhile, MI5 has engaged in ‘unlawful’ acts against privacy; sending British Libyans to fight against Muammar Gaddafi, and even spying on Jeremy Corbyn. Not to mention a decades-long partnership with the BBC to screen out left-wing “subversives”. The agency has also had authorisation to commit criminal acts since 2014.

Used against us

There’s no question that the far right in the UK is growing bolder. And it’s something we should all resist. But expanding the remit of an often unaccountable body such as MI5 is dubious at best.

The Canary previously quoted Netpol as saying:

In our experience, every new piece of public order and anti-terrorism legislation is eventually used to clamp down on legitimate political dissent and resistance to injustice, often in ways that some who supported and voted for it never imagined.

Britain’s police are no friends to the left. This is borne out by both history and the present. And the country’s national security services aren’t either. So if we start expanding MI5’s remit now, it will probably be only a matter of time until those same powers are turned on us.

Get Involved!

– Consider community organising to fight the far right, rather than relying on police and the state. Check out groups such as Anti-Fascist Network and Football Lads and Lasses Against Fascism.

Support The Canary so we can keep holding the powerful to account.

Featured image via Cnbrb/Wikimedia Commons

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Glen Black