United Kingdom

The Far-Right Terrorism Threat Grows

Aon’s Risk Maps 2020 reveal a complex web of security threats likely to be by the economic and social consequences of COVID-19


After a far-right demonstration in central London in mid-June turned violent, more than 100 people were arrested for offences described by the Metropolitan Police as ranging from violent disorder, to assault on officers, and possession of offensive weapons. The UK’s Prime Minister went further, calling the violence “racist thuggery.”

It was the most serious public disorder seen on the capital’s streets perhaps since the 2011 riots and reflected the growing challenge for many western democracies as they struggle to contain the spread of far right extremism, as well as security risks from other terror groups and the growing potential for strikes, riots and civil commotion feeding off the economic and social dislocation of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Right-wing extremism on the rise

According to Aon’s recently published Risk Maps 2020, extreme right-wing terrorism is increasing in “frequency and lethality” with a prevalence in the US (53% of all right-wing terrorist attacks) and Germany (17%). But as the recent incidents in the UK show, the problem is not contained to just a few countries; France, New Zealand, Spain, Norway, Malta, Lithuania, Brazil and Chile all experienced right-wing motivated terrorist attacks in 2019.

For organisations and multi-national firms prepared to publicly (and rightly) support or represent minority groups such as the LGBTQ+ community or ethnic minorities, there are significant potential exposures to be mindful of. One example is the threat posed to technology companies who find themselves as possible targets following the removal of hate speech from their social media platforms. Firms should pay close attention to the threat from right-wing extremists, take expressions of intent seriously and demonstrate they have considered, and prepared for the threat posed by this new wave of extremism.

Threat level is still ‘substantial’

More positively, terrorist attacks related to Islamist extremism have dropped in Western countries with only eight such attacks in 2019, listed in Aon’s report, compared with 26 in 2017. This reflects a change of focus by Islamic State towards operations in the Middle East, Africa and Asia – in 2019, there was a 35% increase in jihadist attacks in the Sahel region of Africa. As a result, the UK’s overall threat level against all forms of terrorism has now been reduced by the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre (JTAC) to ‘substantial’ which means an attack is ‘likely’, but is now at its lowest level since 2014 when it was raised to ‘severe’ and then to ‘critical’ in 2017.

The ‘substantial’ rating however, still recognises that the terrorist threat from Islamic extremism remains, as does the possibility of an attack in the UK from splinter groups from the Irish Republican Army – the threat in Northern Ireland from these groups remains at ‘severe’ – and, of course, from far-right extremists.

COVID-19 impact

The overall security picture should also be assessed in the context of the huge economic and social damage being inflicted globally by COVID-19. The levels of unprecedented state intervention to suppress the pandemic have already seen instances of protests globally in the US and Serbia, for example, as people become frustrated with lockdowns, curfews and restrictions on travel. But, as jobs are lost and the true economic impact is revealed, there could be more incidents of strikes, riots and civil commotion which feed off points of social friction like unemployment.

Terrorist groups like the far right will look to exploit this friction via social media for example, potentially whipping up dangerous flash points where violence can result in injuries and physical damage to businesses and revenue.

Build resilience

Aon’s Risk Maps 2020 estimates that three in five countries or territories are at risk of some form of civil commotion in 2020 and UK businesses should consider the possible impact on their operations at home and abroad if public disorder increases. This is where the importance of building organisational resilience needs to be prioritised although not every business faces the same level of threat. Clearly if a business operates in an urban centre and sells high value products, its risk to losses from an associated public disorder problem like looting could be substantial. Taking risk mitigation measures such as boarding up windows and securing stock in advance of demonstrations can help to prevent financial loss.

A problem, warns Aon’s report, is that some businesses “have made radical cuts in their risk management capabilities” during the pandemic and “may be particularly vulnerable to any tumult as they try to recover.” Whether the threat is terrorism, or strikes, riots and civil commotion, or political risk at home or for operations abroad, UK businesses will need to assess and understand the risks to their organisations, build their physical and financial resilience, and look at how their current insurance programmes would respond.

To find out more, download Risk Maps 2020 – Aon’s guide to political risk, terrorism, and political violence.