press release

Prevent experts call on Charities Commission to investigate Policy Exchange after its David Cameron-endorsed report claims critics are “enabling terrorism”

London, 11 May 2022: Two of the UK’s leading experts on the government’s Prevent strategy, Professor John Holmwood and Dr Layla Aitlhadj, have lodged a complaint about Policy Exchange with the Charities Commission, calling for it to be stripped of its charity status.

The complaint outlines potential serious regulatory breaches following the publication of Policy Exchange’s ‘Delegitimising Counter-Terrorism’ report, whose foreword was written by former Prime Minister David Cameron. Among the concerns raised are the charity’s record of poor research standards, its racist and Islamophobic stance, and of “misleading the public about Muslim communities and individuals, by promoting vilification and even hatred towards them.” Policy Exchange’s attack on the expression of legitimate opinion, which is a fundamental part of a healthy public sphere, and its partisan attack on self-organised Muslim civil society groups also form part of the grievance against them.

Prof. Holmwood and Dr Aitlhadj’s nine-page complaint letter to the Charities Commission last week sets out the case against the Policy Exchange and its report under six headings: being partisan; not advancing education; misusing donations; racist and Islamophobic claims; misleading the public; and poor research standards. 

“As a charity, Policy Exchange must remain non-partisan and be detached from government. Yet it would appear Policy Exchange is neither, acting primarily as a vehicle for political propaganda and anti-Muslim narratives. This neither benefits the public, nor advances education, which is its stated charitable aim,” said Dr Layla Aitlhadj, who is a director at Prevent Watch.

Dr Aitlhadj and Prof. Holmwood authored ‘The People’s Review of Prevent’, published in February, that assessed the government’s controversial Prevent policy. The pair undertook the largest-ever study of Prevent, which forms one part of the UK’s CONTEST counter-terrorism strategy, analysing 600 cases of people impacted by the programme. Their findings suggest that Prevent is not actually
preventing terrorism, but is instead wrongly targeting and traumatising hundreds of innocent people, some aged as young as four.

The Policy Exchange’s April report, ‘Delegitimising Counter-Terrorism’, appears to be a response to The People’s Review of Prevent, quoting extensively from it. However, instead of offering rigorous counter-evidence to disprove The Review’s findings, the think tank opted to single out the Muslim contributors, accusing them of “enabling terrorism”, whilst failing to mention any of the eminent
non-Muslims who also participated. They include Professor Fionnuala Ni Aolain, the UN Rapporteur on the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms while Countering Terrorism, barristers Conor Gearty QC and David Renton, and human rights defenders such as Amnesty International and Open Rights Group.
The Charities Commission is asked to consider the nature and timing of Policy Exchange’s report, its relationship to the current government, how potential conflicts of interest are managed, and complying with its legal charitable objects. Policy Exchange openly supports the government’s independent review of Prevent by William Shawcross, himself a Senior Fellow of Policy Exchange
since 2018. The report is further politicised by the involvement of former Prime Minister David Cameron, whose government mandated Prevent for all public sector workers.

“It’s bad enough that a charity promotes the view that some areas of government policy are above public scrutiny. But to single out and demonise Muslims by suggesting their legitimate criticisms of Prevent are not shared by others, and then accuse them of ‘enabling terrorism’, as David Cameron has, is a serious assault on our democracy, and could potentially also encourage hate crimes against such individuals,” said Prof. Holmwood. 
Questions are also asked about Policy Exchange’s funding. A result of a lack of transparency in its accounts, the complaint states, creates doubts about whether these are from political sources or from those with a known anti-Muslim agenda. The complaint letter concludes by stating there is “a case for investigating” Policy Exchange, and whether, given its activities and reports, “it should remain a charity”.