Updated Thursday 7 Mar 2024

CASE FILE: Britain First

Name Britain First
Tags Anti-Migrant and Anti-Muslim
Categories Political Party
Related People/Groups
Years Active 2011 – Present
Active Areas UK



Britain First was launched in 2011 when some 40,000 current and former British National Party (BNP) members, supporters and donors received an unsolicited email, and a further 5,000 people received a glossy mailshot, introducing the new group and its chairman, Paul Golding.

Formed by Jim Dowson and led by Golding, both formerly of the BNP, the group began its confrontational political activities by promoting actions designed to intimidate and ignite violent responses from Muslim communities.

While always struggling to get more than a few dozen people on the streets, Britain First rose to become one of the best known far-right groups in the UK, in large part due to its success on social media. At its peak, the group’s Facebook page had over 1.9 million likes and in November 2017, President Trump retweeted three anti-Muslim videos posted by then-deputy leader Jayda Fransen. Britain First was deplatformed by Facebook, however the party’s accounts on X/Twitter — in addition to those of co-leaders Paul Golding and Ashlea Simon — were reactivated this year. 

For many people in the UK, Britain First will forever be linked to the tragic assassination of Labour MP Jo Cox by far-right extremist Thomas Mair in June 2016. Despite having no apparent connection to the group, he reportedly shouted the words “Britain First” during his attack. This placed the organisation under the microscope and indelibly linked it with far-right violence in the minds of the British public.

In the summer of 2017, a Polish-born Britain First supporter called Marek Zakrocki drove his van at the owner of a restaurant in North London. He told police at the scene: “I’m going to kill a Muslim, I’m doing this for Britain” and when they later searched his home they found two Britain First magazines. Darren Osborne, the terrorist who killed one and injured nine after he drove a van into pedestrians near Finsbury Park Mosque in 2017, had also consumed Britain First content. Mark Rowley, former Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, said of Osborne: “He had grown to hate Muslims largely due his consumption of large amounts of online far-right material including, as evidenced at court, statements from former EDL leader Tommy Robinson, Britain First and others.”


Since forming over a decade ago, Golding has regularly changed the style and focus of Britain First in the hope of finding a winning formula that, so far, remains elusive.

In its early years, Britain First sought to differentiate itself from other anti-Muslim street protest groups active at the time, such as the English Defence League (EDL), by adopted the trappings of a paramilitary organisation, such as pseudo-military titles, uniforms and armoured vehicles, drawing influence from such organisations in Northern Ireland, where Britain First was formed. Paradoxically, the tactic only served to mark the group out as extremists, and even led to convictions under the Public Order Act 1936.

Britain First activists

The group first made headlines for its so-called “Christian patrols” and “mosque invasions” that saw activists descend on areas with large Muslim populations and storm into Muslim places of worship. Notoriously driving military Land Rovers, Golding and a dozen other Britain First activists carried cans of lager and intimidated Muslims in East London in a desperate attempt to draw out Islamist groups “Muslim patrols” for confrontation.

These tactics attracted supporters enamoured by confrontational direct action and stunts, in particular targeting Islamist extremist Anjem Choudary’s network. Through directly confronting opponents on camera, Britain First soon attracted support on social media. However, for some, including the founder Jim Dowson, the tactics proved too controversial and he subsequently left the group.

One element of Britain First’s politics, which marks it out from the rest of the UK far right, is its emphasis on Christianity. In its early years, the group was heavily influenced by Dowson’s brand of radical evangelical Protestantism and became known for carrying large crosses on demonstrations. Since the departure of Dowson, and then deputy leader Jayda Fransen, the religious aspect of the group’s politics has become less pronounced, though has not disappeared. One of Britain First’s key principles remains a commitment to “maintaining and strengthening Christianity as the foundation of our society and culture”, and the group continues to be vocally anti-abortion.

Britain First’s brand of far-right Christianity explains in part its obsessive Islamophobia, seeing Muslims as a fundamental threat to British traditions and identity and subscribing to the idea of an ongoing clash of incompatible civilisations. However, while anti-Muslim politics has been at the forefront of the group since its beginning, it has a wider and more traditional far-right platform than some of their rivals within the so-called “counter-jihad” scene. In many ways, the group has more in common with fascist political parties like the BNP than it does with primarily anti-Muslim street organisations like the EDL.   

This became much clearer with the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement in the UK in 2020. For a period, Britain First pivoted away from Islam and Muslims and talked more explicitly about race and whiteness. The group released numerous images of Lee Rigby, Emily Jones and Charlene Downes – all white murder victims – with text overlaid reading “White Lives Matter”. It also held demonstrations that focused on race and organised to “defend” various statues and memorials, in response to protests about their links to slavery and colonialism. Ashlea Simon, the party’s co-leader, has even said, “English people can’t be black, English blood is white.” The group has also pushed the racist “Great Replacement” conspiracy theory that alleges that white Europeans are being “replaced” by a sustained influx of immigrants, for example claiming in a 2021 article that “white Westerners” are being subjected to an “pernicious and evil campaign” that amounts to “genocide”.

One area that Golding has shied away from is open and explicit antisemitism. However, he has been happy to collaborate with well-known antisemites both during his time in the BNP, once enjoying a close relationship with then-leader Nick Griffin, but also while leader of Britain First. As part of his efforts to establish links to the international far right, he twice invited the strongly antisemitic Polish hate preacher, Jacek Międlar, to speak at rallies in 2017. In both instances, he was prevented from entering the UK. Another figure invited to speak at a Britain First rally was Piotr Rybak, previously indicted for inciting hatred after he burned an effigy of an orthodox Jew at a protest.

In recent years Golding has once again pivoted the focus of Britain First in the hope of garnering mainstream traction. With cross-Channel migration by boats hitting the headlines, he made opposing it a core element of Britain First’s activism. Emulating the mosque invasions that made the group notorious, Golding and his activists continue to storm into migrant accommodation and confront people with cameras. Unfortunately for Golding, this tactic has not secured the same wide spread on social media as the group experienced in its early years.

Paul Golding on the beach.


Electoral Politics

While the group made its name through confrontational street protests, it has regularly focused its energy on electoral politics. In the early years, Britain First launched the National People’s Party as its electoral vehicle, but subsequently registered Britain First itself in January 2014.

According to accounts at the time the party had a total income of £159,516 in 2014 – three times what it raised the previous year – but spent nearly all of that on campaigning. A total of 286 parties reported having gross income and total expenditure of £250,000 or less in 2014. Three parties reported income and spending between £100,000 and £250,000. This made Britain First the best funded of all small parties registered with the Electoral Commission. In these accounts, the party claimed a membership of 15,072- up from 3,640 the previous year. To put this into context, at its peak with two MEPs, sixty plus local councillors and a full time staff of around a dozen, in 2009 the British National Party (BNP) had only around 15,000 members themselves. However, many believe Britain First’s membership claims have always been hugely exaggerated. 

At the 2014 European elections, the group registered the phrase “Remember Lee Rigby” so that it appeared on the ballot paper, though the move backfired after it was widely criticised for exploiting the murder.

Britain First’s next electoral outing came in November of that year when then-Deputy Leader, Jayda Fransen, ran in the Rochester and Strood by-election. The group hit the headlines again when the Royal Mail refused to deliver her leaflet, believing it to be illegal. Fransen received just 56 votes, another embarrassing electoral performance.

Jayda Fransen

Golding then stood himself in the 2016 London mayoral elections, polling just 1.2%. During the victory speech of Labour’s Sadiq Khan Golding turned his back on the winning candidate and Britain First later tweeted “ISLAMIC EXTREMISTS NOT WELCOME!”.

After this string of disastrous results, the party was eventually deregistered by the Electoral Commission in 2017 after Golding failed to renew its registration in time. This did not stop the Electoral Commission fining the group £44,200 in 2019 for “multiple breaches” of electoral law, including its failure to keep accurate donation and financial records.

Golding worked hard to ensure the party was re-registered and, after numerous failed attempts and legal challenges, the group finally succeeded in 2021. However, prior to this success he had already begun to reorganise Britain First into a more serious electoral machine. In early 2019, the group restructured into more formal regional branches and refocused on local politics, more closely emulating the old BNP. Golding hoped this would revive the group’s fortunes, with a March 2019 article claiming: “Such a network, comprising scores, then hundreds, of active, connected branches, will make Britain First unstoppable!”

However, the group’s first test at the ballot box since being re-registered, in May 2022, proved as unsuccessful as before. Britain First stood just three candidates, who were variously exposed by HOPE not hate for antisemitism, conspiracy theorising and past membership of fascist groups. All three performed poorly, despite an organised and active campaign.

Britain First’s dreadful results have not stopped the group from persevering with electoral politics.

Convictions and Crimes

One contributing factor to Britain First’s failure to grow significantly or garner success at the ballot box is its public image as incompetent extremists. Over the last decade leading figures have been dogged by legal issues, criminal trials, periods in prison and bitter internal disputes.

For example, in August 2016, Golding and Fransen were banned from entering Luton and, later, all mosques and Islamic centres in England and Wales. In November 2016, Fransen was convicted and fined by a court in Luton for abusing a Muslim woman, and also fined for wearing a political uniform. On the same day, Golding was charged with having entered premises in Wales against a court order instructing him not to do so. After breaking the court order Golding was sentenced to eight weeks in prison in December 2016 and on his release published a video in which he stated: “I can promise you, from the very depths of my being, you will all meet your miserable ends at the hands of the Britain First movement. Every last one of you.”

Paul Golding and Jayda Fransen mug shots.

Despite his big talk upon release, in March 2018 Golding and Fransen were both jailed again for 18 weeks and 36 weeks respectively for religiously aggravated harassment. Then, again, in 2020 Golding was charged under the Terrorism Act for refusing to provide access to his digital devices following an arrest.

Splits and Schisms

The group has also been hindered by internal splits and acrimonious schisms. In 2014, founder Jim Dowson left the group and blasted Golding, publicly stating that the “group is being overrun with racists and extremists,” and that “it has just become a violent front for people abusing the Bible.”

Then in 2019, Fransen, who was arguably the group’s best known figure, left the party claiming that Golding was a domestic abuser. A BBC Spotlight documentary uncovered recordings of Golding admitting to assaulting Fransen and another woman. In 2022, Golding and his associates were ordered to pay Fransen £75,000 in damages. The revelations that Golding hits women has severely undermined his claims to be a protector of women from Muslims.

Despite internal issues and a disastrous record at the ballot box, Britain First remains one of the most active far-right groups in the UK, undertaking weekly activities, such as leafleting, recruitment drives, banner drops, hotel visits and other stunts. The group also has the best infrastructure on the far right, with three mini-vans, an office and a training centre for its “Defence Force”. 

The group demands a lot of its activists and as a result has a very high turnover, with people often quickly dropping out. However, those who remain are usually highly motivated and willing to travel and to turn out for actions most weekends, meaning that while the group continues to be very small in terms of actual active members, it has an outsized ability to negatively impact its target communities.  

Britain First in 2023

2023 was a disappointing year for Britain First. Despite consistently campaigning and engaging in some form of activism most weeks, the group has been dogged by continual infighting, high activist turnover and has failed to significantly grow its offline activist base. 

One positive for the group has been its growth on X (formerly Twitter). Following Elon Musk’s shakeup of the platform, Britain First received its account back in October 2022 and in 2023 has taken advantage of the platform’s new paid for verification process. Paul Golding has risen to over 170,000 followers, Ashlea Simon to 80,000 and the official Britain First account has over 70,0000. 

However, this increase in social media following has not translated into a noticeable growth in the number of people willing to attend campaign events on the ground. 

The past year saw Britain First’s dismal electoral performance continue. At May’s local elections, Golding came last in his target ward of Swanscombe, Dartford, with just 5% of the vote. He quickly proclaimed that, despite the evidence, his candidacy had merely been a “paper candidacy” to distract attention from the group’s real target wards. But his candidates fared little better in those places – Nick Scanlon also came last on 10% in Darenth ward, while Paul Harding came third in Hockley & Ashingdon with 13%. In both cases, the Britain First candidate was defeated by a local independent candidate.

As expected, it was deputy leader Ashlea Simon who performed best, coming second in Walkden North (Salford) with 405 votes. However, the result will come as a major disappointment to the party; Simon’s vote actually went down from last year, both in raw numbers and vote share, despite six months of intense campaigning.

Ashlea Simon

Ashlea Simon stood again in the Tamworth by-election in October but received just 580 votes (2.3% of the vote), placing 4th out of 9 candidates. The group hailed it as a success due to beating the Liberal Democrats, the Greens and UKIP but will no doubt have been disappointed with such a low vote share after a prolonged period of campaigning in the area. 

Last year there was also a reminder of where the extreme politics of Britain First can lead. In June, Richard Osborne was jailed for three years and ten months after admitting to stirring up racial and anti-LGBT+ hatred. Osborne also admitted to the possession of two weapons. A baton fashioned out of a metal bar was found in his car and a shotgun, which he was not licensed for, was found under his bed after a search of his home. HOPE not hate revealed that Osborne had engaged in anti-migrant activism with Britain First. In August 2020, pictures show Osborne behind a Britain First banner reading “Close Down Migrant Hotels” at an action targeting the Coventry Hill Hotel. 

Britain First in Coventry August 2020

2023 was a lacklustre year for Britain First, as the group continues to struggle with growth, and there is little indication this year will be any different. The group has announced that Nick Scanlon will stand to be London mayor at this May’s election. Whether it will also target the general election will be something to watch. 




“State of HATE 2024: Pessimism, Decline, and the Rising Radical Right” is available now. This guide offers the most comprehensive and insightful analysis of far-right extremism in Britain today. Secure your free copy now.



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