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Boris Johnson appoints ex-Labour MP to probe ‘far-left infiltration’ of BLM and XR

John Woodcock to investigate ‘progressive extremism’ that ministers fear is fuelling violence at political protests

The government has appointed a member of the House of Lords to examine claims that far-left activists have “hijacked” the Black Lives Matter (BLM) and Extinction Rebellion (XR) movements.

John Woodcock - a former Labour MP who sits as an unaffiliated peer - will explore the fringes of both the far-left and far-right amid growing concern about activities “linked to political causes that fall below the traditional threshold of terrorism”, The Telegraph reports.

Woodcock has been tasked with leading the review after being appointed as the government’s independent adviser on political violence and disruption in November. He will report his findings and recommendations to Boris Johnson and Home Secretary Priti Patel this spring.

Announcing the new probe, Woodcock told The Telegraph that the UK must learn lessons from the storming of the US Capitol by far-right extremists last month. “We must be vigilant against a similar blind spot in Britain to the prospect of progressive extremism,” he said.

Woodcock pointed to incidents in the UK of left-wing causes “overstepping the mark into antisocial behaviour”, citing XR as a “particular” example.

However, there is “not an equivalence of threat between the far-left and the far-right” in Britain, added the peer, who says the latter poses a far greater problem.  

Home Office data published in September showed that right-wing extremists now make up almost a fifth of terrorists in jail in England and Wales, rising from 33 in 2018-19 to 45 in the year to the end of last June. 

Last year’s annual figures for the government’s Prevent scheme also showed a record number of referrals related to far-right extremism.

The new investigation into BLM and XR comes as Johnson faces criticism for his “war on woke”. In an article on Politico last month, former minister for culture and now Tory peer Ed Vaizey argued that the campaign is “counter-productive” and “pathetic”.

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