This Sunday, the capital will endure the “Brexit Betrayal March”, a far-right demonstration spearheaded by Islamophobic extremist and serial criminal Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (AKA Tommy Robinson) and UKIP’s anti-Muslim leader, Gerard Batten.
The event, which will kick off at The Dorchester Hotel at 11:45 and move to Whitehall for the main rally at 13:00, signals the ever-closer relationship between UKIP and Lennon. In a recent video Lennon stated that “If we pull off Sunday you will see the launch, and the momentum will build, for a revolutionist [sic] populist party and political movement in this country”.
As with previous demonstrations this year, activists from across the British far right, representing a diverse range of organisations including Generation Identity, For Britain, the British National Party and the National Front, are likely to attend.
The march has proved enormously controversial within UKIP, prompting a number of high profile resignations, with former leader Nigel Farage claiming that the event is “the most ill-judged political event I have ever been aware of in British politics. The very idea of Tommy Robinson being at the centre of the Brexit debate is too awful to contemplate”.
Alongside the certainty that the march will feature openly racist individuals and groups, there is also the very real possibility of violence, which marred the ‘Free Tommy’ demonstrations held in support of Lennon during his most recent stint in prison. Lennon is evidently feeling the pressure in the wake of these resignations, and has produced a video pleading with his supporters not to turn to violence or drink alcohol.
The numerous resignations in UKIP and the party’s spiral into the far right does not mean the party will cease to be a serious threat. UKIP’s name alone means they will continue to be a receptacle for the Brexit discontent of many people.
Confirmed speakers include Batten, who has a long history of anti-Muslim politics, including calling the religion “a death cult, born and steeped in fourteen hundred years of violence and bloodshed, that propagates itself by intimidation, violence and conquest”. Despite internal criticism, Batten has played an active role in far-right demonstrations organised by or for Lennon throughout 2018.
Lennon will also speak. Batten claims that he has “persuaded Tommy Robinson to talk about Brexit”, despite Lennon admitting that Brexit has not been his focus during his long-running Islamophobic career, which has included leading the English Defence League (EDL) as they brought fear and violence to town centres across the UK from 2009 – 2013.
Former UKIP leader Lord Malcolm Pearson has been a keen supporter of Lennon within UKIP, inviting the extremist to Parliament in March 2018. The demonstration was moved from its original date (1 December) to this Sunday in part to allow Pearson to speak.
Online anti-feminist Carl Benjamin (AKA Sargon of Akkad) is also on the roster. Benjamin has accused opponents of “acting like a bunch of n***ers”, and told Jess Phillips MP “I wouldn’t even rape you”. He joined UKIP in June alongside a cohort of extreme online figures, and has since provided Batten, and other UKIP figures, lengthy interviews on his YouTube channel.
Present at the planning meeting for the event was Daniel Thomas (AKA Danny Tommo), an associate of Lennon’s, who was convicted of attempted kidnap in 2016.
For many within UKIP, Batten’s infatuation with Lennon and embrace of street politics has proven the final straw. A slew of prominent party members, including former leaders Nigel Farage and Paul Nuttall, former Deputy Leader Suzanne Evans, and several other MEPs have all quit the party, citing UKIP’s new far-right direction and obsession with Lennon.
Suzanne Evans, the party’s former Deputy Chair, called Lennon’s appointment by Batten, ”a ludicrous and crazy thing to do… and yet he [Batten] doesn’t seem to care; he has no mandate from the members to do this. I think it is very dangerous,” she told Radio 4’s World at One programme.
Many within UKIP have been keen to disassociate themselves from the march; the party’s current chair, Kristan Herriot, has written to members that it is “not a UKIP event and the NEC have not endorsed it”. This is despite the fact that the Facebook page for the event, which lists some 1,200 attendees, is “hosted” by the official UKIP Facebook account.
This raft of UKIP resignations in quick succession suggests a level of coordination and begs the questions if a new UKIP breakaway party might be on its way.
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