UK GOVERNMENT officials have reportedly drawn up proposals to broaden the definition of “extremism” to include anyone who “undermines” Britain and its institutions – raising fears independence campaigners could be criminalised.

The definition has been prepared by civil servants working for Michael Gove and has raised concerns among officials it is too broad and could lead to the beliefs and activities of mainstream groups becoming illegal, reports The Observer.

One Whitehall official told the paper: “The concern is that this is a crackdown on freedom of speech. The definition is too broad and will capture legitimate organisations and individuals.”

Gove’s Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities started a review of non-violent extremism earlier in the year and is expected to publish a national cohesion and counter-extremism plan including the new definition of extremism shortly.

The new definition reads: “Extremism is the promotion or advancement of any ideology which aims to overturn or undermine the UK’s system of parliamentary democracy, its institutions and values.”

There are concerns this could encompass Scottish independence campaigners and activists for Welsh independence and Irish reunification, among others.

A document seen by The Observer in which Whitehall officials raised concerns about the new definition also claimed that the Muslim Council of Britain, Palestine Action and Muslim Engagement and Development could be considered extremists under the new wording.

Pete Wishart, the SNP’s longest serving MP, said: “What if you just want your part of the UK to be a normal self-governing nation? Could be starting to get into unsettling territory here.”

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Professor Alison Phipps, a prominent campaigner for refugee rights, added: “This effectively proposes criminalising the independence movements and parties in the devolved administrations.”

Alba Party general secretary Chris McEleny, who fought a court case which resulted in Scottish independence being considered a protected belief under the Equality Act, said the plans would "fly in the face of the law". 

He told The National: "Many people faced discrimination in the workplace back in 2014 making them scared to support independence publicly in case it would jeopardise their livelihoods.

"Thanks to the 2019 decision this is no longer the case and employers now take note of this.

"But protection from discrimination doesn’t just stop in the workplace. These reported plans of the UK Government fly in the face of the law.

"If the UK Government are so scared of the prospect of Scotland wanting to become an independent country that they would even countenance criminalising supporters of independence, we should take note as to how weak this means the UK Government actually are.”

Scottish Greens MSP Ross Greer said: "This increasingly sinister authoritarianism from a dying government should concern us all, particularly given how unlikely a future Labour government would be to reverse this kind of nonsense.

“The Tories have already clamped down on the right to protest, to vote, trade union activity and academic freedom.

"Broadening the definition of extremism in a way that risks capturing large and legitimate political movements shows what a danger to democracy they are."

In 2011, the Government reviewed its Prevent strategy and defined extremism as “active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and the mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs”.

The Government previously attempted to update this definition but failed because they were unable to arrive at a legally acceptable definition of extremism.

A UK Government spokesperson told The Observer: “We are clear there is no place for extremism, and over the last few years we have taken action to tackle hatred and those who seek to divide us.

“As you would expect, we keep our approach to tackling extremism under review to ensure it meets the evolving challenge it poses.”