Labour has accused Sajid Javid of attempting to boost his Tory leadership credentials with plans to impose a blanket ban on Hezbollah in Britain under anti-terror laws.
The home secretary is seeking to outlaw the political wing of the Lebanese-based group so it is treated in the same way as the military wing, which is already banned under UK law.
Until now, governments have resisted proscribing the organisation in its entirety as it forms part of Lebanon’s government and controls areas of the middle-eastern country.
But MPs and Jewish groups argue that it is a single entity, and have called on ministers to close the loophole, which allows Hezbollah’s flag to be flown legally on Britain’s streets during marches.
A Labour source said the party would not oppose Javid’s move in the Commons on Tuesday, meaning membership of Hezbollah’s political wing is set to become a criminal offence carrying a maximum sentence of up to ten years from Friday.
But the decision has proven awkward for Jeremy Corbyn, who once described Hezbollah members as “friends”, and is facing a battle to repair Labour’s relations with the Jewish community following the resignation of nine MPs last week, in part over the party’s anti-Semitism crisis.
Labour also argued against the decision, potentially opening it up for criticism.
The party claimed the Home Office has previously ruled that there is insufficient evidence to ban the political wing of Hezbollah under existing criteria.
And it said the Foreign Office has held the view that banning the political wing would make it difficult for the UK to maintain normal diplomatic relations with Lebanon or to work with it on humanitarian issues such as those facing Syrian refugees.
A spokesman added: “Decisions on the proscription of organisations as terror groups are supposed to be made on the advice of civil servants based on clear evidence that those organisations fall foul of the proscription criteria set out in legislation.
“The home secretary must therefore now demonstrate that this decision was taken in an objective and impartial way, and driven by clear and new evidence, not by his leadership ambitions.”
Javid is also seeking the proscription of two other groups, Ansaroul Islam and Jamaat Nusrat al-Islam Wal-Muslimin (JNIM), a move which Labour supports.
The decision on Hezbollah brings Britain in line with countries including the US.
The home secretary said: “Hezbollah is continuing in its attempts to destabilise the fragile situation in the Middle East - and we are no longer able to distinguish between their already banned military wing and the political party.
“Because of this, I have taken the decision to proscribe the group in its entirety.”
Hezbollah - or the Party of God - is a Shia Muslim movement which emerged during the early 1980s with financial backing from Iran.
In 2001, ministers banned its external security organisation. Seven years later, the proscription was extended to Hezbollah’s military wing.
A listing in the official register of banned groups says Hezbollah is “committed to armed resistance to the state of Israel, and aims to seize all Palestinian territories and Jerusalem from Israel”, adding: “Its military wing supports terrorism in Iraq and the Palestinian territories.”
Announcing the latest move, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said: “We are staunch supporters of a stable and prosperous Lebanon.
“We cannot however be complacent when it comes to terrorism - it is clear the distinction between Hezbollah’s military and political wings does not exist, and by proscribing Hezbollah in all its forms, the government is sending a clear signal that its destabilising activities in the region are totally unacceptable and detrimental to the UK’s national security.
“This does not change our ongoing commitment to Lebanon, with whom we have a broad and strong relationship.”
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said the move to ban Hezbollah’s political wing was “long overdue”.
He said: “I have been clear that anti-Semitism and hate crime has no place whatsoever in our city or in our society.
“I wrote to both the previous Home Secretary Amber Rudd and current Home Secretary Sajid Javid to raise my deep concerns about the support shown for Hezbollah at the annual Al Quds march in London.”