Home Office Quietly Deletes Letter To Michael Gove On Islamic Extremism (But It’s Still On Google)

Home secretary, education secretary, outside, now.

Suzanne Plunkett / Reuters

Suzanne Plunkett / Reuters

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The government has quietly deleted a letter sent by home secretary Theresa May to education secretary Michael Gove in which she attacks her cabinet colleague for failing to tackle Islamic extremism in schools, BuzzFeed has learned.

The letter, which raises pointed questions about the education department’s handling of the supposed Trojan Horse plot in which Islamic extremists allegedly attempted to gain control of schools, was published on Tuesday.

But despite being originally hosted on the official Gov.uk website the letter has since been deleted and all links now redirect to the main Home Office website.

The deletion occurred shortly after David Cameron ordered an inquiry into the row between the two ministers, which began with a briefing from Michael Gove that made the front page of The Times and spilled into a briefing war with Theresa May’s team.

As a result there is no trace of the correspondence anywhere on the government’s website, although a copy continues to be hosted on Google’s Cache.

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Gov.uk / Google Cache
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The Home Office has also gone out of its way to delete a tweet from its main account that promoted the attack on Gove, which is screengrabbed below.

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A Home Office spokesman declined to comment on the attempt to unpublish the letter or elaborate on why the correspondence has been taken off the government website.

But the row between two top Conservatives over the best way to deal with extremists is known to have personally angered David Cameron, who has demanded the two sides stop briefing against each other. The Prime Minister has also asked the cabinet secretary to intervene on the issue.

Since then two departments have issued a terse joint statement in which they insisted that all was well between the two departments.

The Trojan Horse plot hit the news earlier this year after a leaked letter suggested Muslim groups were trying to infiltrate the governing bodies of a number of Birmingham schools. Doubts have since been cast on its authenticity but the education secretary Michael Gove has appointed former counter-terrorism expert Peter Clarke to investigate the schools in question. This has led some Muslim leaders to say the investigation is “at odds with traditional British values”.

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7. The full text of the deleted letter from Theresa May to Michael Gove is available below. The key paragraph is in bold.

I am writing in response to your letter to the Prime Minister seeking approval to launch a public consultation on a voluntary Code of Practice for supplementary schools.

The publication of a Code of Practice for supplementary schools was an agreed Extremism Task Force commitment and we agreed at the conclusion of the ETF’s work that the Code should be voluntary. However, since the publication of the ETF report in December there have been serious allegations of extremism in some Birmingham schools and accusations about the inability of local and central government to tackle the problem effectively. In this context, I am not convinced that a voluntary code is sufficient and I believe it would be sensible to include the option of developing a mandatory code in your consultation document.

I understand and share your desire to include a clear and unambiguous definition of extremism and of Islamist extremism, and indeed I was pleased that we were able to agree the latter in the ETF report. It is important that having agreed these definitions we now stick to them in the Code of Practice to avoid any confusion.

We know that extremists try to impose specific forms of dress on people and this includes the mandatory veiling of women. The consultation document should be clear that nobody should be forced to dress in a particular way. We do, however, need to recognise that many moderate Muslims, as well as people of other religions, believe that covering one’s hair is a religious requirement and some parents will therefore want their children to do so. The text on dress requirements should therefore not be part of the extremism definition but, consistent with the Government’s already-stated position on the burqa, we should state clearly that nobody should be forced to dress in a particular way.

The allegations relating to schools in Birmingham raise serious questions about the quality of school governance and oversight arrangements in the maintained sector, not just the supplementary schools that would be signatories to this Code of Practice. How did it come to pass, for example, that one of the governors at Park View was the chairman of the education committee of the Muslim Council of Britain? Is it true that Birmingham City Council was warned about these allegations in 2008? Is it true that the Department for Education was warned in 2010? If so, why did nobody act? I am aware that several investigations are still ongoing and those investigations are yet to conclude.

But it is clear to me that we will need to take clear action to improve the quality of staffing and governance if we are to prevent extremism in schools.

I am copying this letter to other members of the Extremism Taskforce.

The Rt Hon Theresa May MP

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Jim Waterson is the UK deputy editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in London. Waterson focuses on politics.
Siraj Datoo is a political reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
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