Priti Patel has called for a major shake-up of the UK’s counter-terror laws, as she warned that Britain is failing to keep up with the fast-growing problem of online radicalisation.

The former home secretary said the UK’s legal definition of terror-related activity is “too broad” to tackle new threats to national security that have emerged on the internet.

“We do need to change our laws in this area – we are not moving ahead with the times anywhere near enough,” she said. “The internet and digitisation has created a new space for many of those voices and organisations and now is the time to effect some really, really solid change.”

Ms Patel was speaking at a Policy Exchange event today, where experts discussed the independent review of the Government’s Prevent counter-terror strategy published earlier this month.

The former home secretary praised the review as a “watershed moment” for Britain’s counter-extremism laws, and urged ministers to use it as “the catalyst for major reform and major change”.

The independent report, led by William Shawcross, claimed that Prevent has become overly focused on the threat from far-right extremism and is too often used as an extension of social services.

Mr Shawcross recommended the programme return to its original purpose of tackling Islamic extremism, which he said remains the number one terror threat in the UK. Suella Braverman, the Home Secretary, accepted all of the report’s recommendations in full earlier this month.

But Ms Patel appeared to criticise her successor’s handling of the four-year report, saying: “This is not a case for the department to just tick the boxes and say: ‘We’re going to just follow all the recommendations and findings and carry on business as usual.’ There is no [business as usual] any more — there really isn’t.”

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The former secretary of state called on Ms Braverman to expand the definition of Islamism and terrorism more widely to encompass further kinds of non-violent extremism and online hate.

Terrorism is defined in British law as the “use or threat of action, both in and outside of the UK, designed to influence any international government organisation or to intimidate the public and for the purpose of advancing a political, religious, racial or ideological cause”.

Ms Patel said: “If we are to effect change in this space, we have to absolutely narrow down our definitions so that the state, for want of a better term, understands who it is or what it is they’re addressing,” she said. “Otherwise we’re chasing white rabbits going down rabbit warrens constantly.”

She also revealed that she tried to “proscribe groups and organisations that were doing terrible, terrible things,” while home secretary between 2019 and 2022, but that narrow terrorism definitions meant the groups “of course never met the threshold”.

The Tory MP for Witham, who commissioned the independent review of Prevent in 2019, also urged the Government to address schools that are failing to integrate children into wider society.

“I’m very, very concerned about certain values — not even just religion, but culture — dominating within schools. That’s not on, it really isn’t,” she said.

“I do think we have wider problems around integration… I’m quite alarmed, if I may say, so, where integration has just become a dirty word. It is deeply, deeply, concerning. I actually think this is becoming a very precarious situation.”

It comes after experts told i earlier this month the Government must tighten the Online Safety Bill to protect young people from the growing risk of online radicalisation.

Jonathan Hall KC, the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, told i that while the Online Safety Bill “does include in its current iteration special duties for children in relation to things like self harm, it doesn’t have the same duties for terrorism”.

Lewys Brace, a professor at the University of Exeter who advises the Government on extremism, added that radicalisation should be added to the national curriculum.

“Realistically we’re not going to remove all of the alarming content. The internet is always going to evolve quicker than the legislation,” he told i. “So yes, let’s keep doing the online stuff, but we’ve also got to come up with something on the education side. That’s the only way we’re really going to start seeing mitigation.”

Official figures released recently showed the education sector made the highest number of referrals to Prevent for the first time last year. More than a third of all people reported to the scheme were flagged through their school, college or university. Police made up the second-highest referral stream.

Ms Patel called for the Government to beef up counter-terror laws to ensure all schools were following the Prevent duty, which requires education settings to report any students showing signs of radicalisation.

“If you are born and bred in this country, you need to be absolutely living and breathing British values,” she said.

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