LONDON // Tougher controls to stop Muslim "preachers of hate" from entering the United Kingdom were unveiled by the government yesterday. The measures, which are also designed to keep neo-Nazis, violent anti-abortionists and animal rights extremists out of Britain, include strengthening the rules to exclude any foreign national suspected of stirring up racial tensions.
The changes outlined by Jacqui Smith, the home secretary, included placing the burden of proof on people barred from entering the United Kingdom that they were innocent of accusations that they were extremists. The only practical way of doing that, the government says, would be for them to publicly disown their reported views. Unless they can do this to the satisfaction of the border control authorities, they would face a permanent ban from entering Britain.
At present, the burden of proof is on the home office, similar to an interior ministry, which has to provide evidence that an individual does actually possess the extremist views ascribed to them. "Coming to Britain is a privilege and I don't want to extend that privilege to individuals who abuse our standards and values to undermine our way of life," Ms Smith said. "I am determined to stop those who foster, encourage or spread extremism and hatred through preaching violent messages in our communities, from coming to the UK.
"These tough new measures will clamp down on those people intent on stirring up tensions by encouraging violence and hatred in our country by preventing them entering the UK." Over the past three years, 230 foreigners have been barred from entering Britain on national security grounds or because of "unacceptable types of behaviour", a category that includes fomenting or glorifying terrorism and inciting hatred.
Among those excluded were Omar Bakri Mohammed, the extremist Muslim cleric who was barred after terrorist attacks in London on July 7 2005, and Yusuf al Qaradawi, an Egyptian-born cleric who was stopped from entering Britain this year after being described as a "dangerous and divisive" preacher of hate by David Cameron, the leader of the Conservative Party. Few others of those barred are known because, until now, individuals could only be named if they chose to mount legal challenges to exclusion orders.
Under the new rules, barred people will be named and the information shared with the EU and other nations. The "naming and shaming" is also intended to ensure that excluded individuals do not slip through the net at some future date. Government officials, however, were at pains to point out yesterday that the new measures were not designed to keep people out of Britain just because they held ideas that were controversial or politically disagreeable.
"The aim is to ban people from the UK who espouse achieving their ends by violent or other illegal means," one official said. "The measures are aimed at preventing anyone who will stir up tensions in the UK from entering the country. "We have not named them in the past but now, when it was in the public interest, we will. It's about excluding people for whom it is not in the public interest to come into this country."
The home office accepts that the new rules will probably lead to a sizeable increase in the number of people being barred from entering the United Kingdom. Not everyone believes that the new measures will be effective, however. Patrick Mercer, a Conservative MP and member of the House of Commons home affairs committee, fears that the clampdown could target the wrong people. "It's the people who are working undercover, who aren't known about, who are working inside the community and influencing people there - they are the really dangerous people," he told the BBC.
Mr Mercer said he felt the government would do better to target foreign-born extremists already settled in Britain. "Let's try to get rid of them rather than trying to keep new people out," he said. Chris Huhne, the Liberal Democrats' spokesman on home affairs, described the new measures as inadequate because they fail to address the problem of those using the internet to spread racial or religious hatred, and the threats posed by those already admitted into the country.
"The main problem with these sort of eye-catching gimmicks is that they don't make us any safer at all," email@example.com