Shawcross’s Prevent review shows inadequacies of the UK’s counter-terrorism strategy, says the Counter Extremism Group

CEG welcomes William Shawcross’s review providing clear, practical solutions to refocus Prevent and tackle the growth of extremist ideologies in the UK.

London, UK – 8 February 2023 – Today, the Counter Extremism Group (CEG), a UK-based think tank that challenges extremist ideologies, welcomes and supports William Shawcross’s review of the UK Government’s counter-terrorism Prevent strategy following its publication.

In his review, the former Chair of the Charity Commission, William Shawcross, who was also a Special Representative on the UK victims of Qadhafi-sponsored IRA terrorism, recognises the vital importance of Prevent in countering terrorism in the UK, yet offers clear recommendations for Prevent to return to its core mission of stopping people from committing or supporting acts of terrorism, and to do more to combat extremist ideologies.

Originally established to support people at risk of joining extremist groups and carrying out terrorist activities, the Prevent strategy has failed to live up to its standard, becoming subject to a series of scandals, including funding those legitimising extremism to do counter-extremism work, and stopping short of doing its mission due to fears around racism and discrimination.

The Counter Extremism Group is calling on Prevent to fully implement the recommendations from the Shawcross review. This means recalibrating the scheme to focus on those ideologies that radicalise people into terrorism. Allocation of Prevent’s resources must be informed by the nature of terrorist threat, with Prevent upholding a proportionate and consistent approach to tackling the varying extremist ideologies.

It recommends the following steps to achieve this:

  1. Prevent must go back to basics. The scheme’s core mission was to stop people becoming terrorists and supporting terrorist organisations, and it should refocus its efforts there.
  2. Prevent is far too focussed on subjects that are peripheral or unconnected to counterterrorism. It should concentrate on the largest terror threat facing the UK: Islamist terrorism.
  3. Prevent has allowed controversy around tackling sensitive issues to lead to a double standard. It now takes an expansive approach to what it considers the Far Right, and a narrow one to Islamism, which must be rebalanced.
  4. Prevent must address blind spots in the subjects it should be looking at, particularly around antisemitic inspired terrorism, and the rise of violent extremist inspired by ‘blasphemy’ charges.
  5. Prevent and the wider counter-terrorism apparatus has funded and legitimised Islamist extremists that undermine Prevent. This cannot be allowed to continue.
  6. Prevent is a vital and measured approach to countering terrorism, and the Government should defend it from dishonest actors running a concerted campaign to demonise the scheme.

Hannah Stuart, Director of the Counter Extremism Group, and former Research Director of the Government’s Commission for Countering Extremism, says:

“The Prevent Review is the biggest shake-up to Britain’s counter-radicalisation efforts in over a decade. Shawcross describes a noble scheme that has lost its way, becoming overly focused on peripheral issues to the detriment of properly countering ideologies that can lead people to supporting terrorism.

“Shawcross rightly calls for a recalibration of Prevent, to better match the nature and scale of the current terrorist threat. This is not about playing ideologies off against one another; it is about ensuring that Prevent is consistent in how it tackles different threats and avoids double standards.

“It is unacceptable that the government has continued to fund groups to do counter-extremism that have themselves promoted Islamist narratives. This is something previous reviews have warned against. It is to be hoped that this government is up to the task of creating the culture change needed to urgently correct this.”

Tom Wilson, Director of Policy at the Counter Extremism Group, says:

“More and more people are being referred to Prevent who don’t belong in a counter-terrorism scheme. The ideologies Prevent focuses on look like an inversion of the terror threat the country faces.

“Prevent has become woefully politicised. The research arm of the scheme frames those on the centre-right as radicalisers. It is little wonder then that staff trying to implement Prevent on the ground are rendered clueless about what terrorist ideology is. Meaning that those who really are moving towards terrorism aren’t apprehended.

“Large parts of Prevent are now doing work that has nothing to do with counter terrorism. National security is being conflated with feel-good community projects. Shawcross’s review shows how this can be rectified. It is now up to the government to show that they have listened.”

The CEG analysis can be accessed online here: