The UK’s top domestic intelligence agency, MI5, is to take the lead in the fight against right-wing extremism, amid fears white supremacists are gaining a foothold on Britain’s streets to incite violent racial conflict.
The Guardian reports that the counterintelligence and security agency will take over from the police in the monitoring and combating of far-right terrorism. It means white supremacist ideology will sit within the same portfolio as Islamist terrorism and Northern Ireland-related terrorism, both covered by MI5.
It comes as far-right extremism rears its head on a global stage, with 11 Jewish worshippers being murdered in a synagogue in Pittsburgh and 13 pipe bombs having been delivered to opponents of President Donald Trump in the US. Both perpetrators are reportedly sympathisers of far-right ideology.
The decision to switch from the police to the domestic intelligence agency, means that extreme right-wing activity will now be considered as posing a real threat to national security. It’s hoped MI5, with its high-level techniques and greater powers will be better able to establish the violent intentions of the far-right than the police.
In the UK, four far-right plots have been prevented since March 2017, compared with 13 Islamist plots in that time. There are around 100 live investigations into right-wing extremism taking place, illustrating the growing problem.
The police will take the executive lead, taking over from MI5 when the time arises to disrupt a plot and make arrests.
One senior police source told the Guardian that the move made sense, saying: “MI5 are driving the car, and SO15 [Counter Terrorism Command] are in the passenger seat. When there is a need to take a plot out, SO15 get in the driving seat.”
The threat from right-wing extremism was recently highlighted by the murder of Labour MP Jo Cox in June 2016. In the wake of Cox’s murder, National Action was proscribed in December 2016, the first far-right group since 1940 to be banned.
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