Roughly 5,000 gather for Tommy Robinson and UKIP demonstration in London, as far right seeks to weaponise Brexit.
Activists from across the UK far right held a ‘Brexit Betrayal’ demonstration today, with a view to forcing the government to adopt a unilateral withdrawal from the European Union ahead of this week’s government vote.
Billed as a ‘cross party’ demonstration the event was organised by Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson) and UKIP’s increasingly isolated leader Gerard Batten.
The event was clearly an attempt by UKIP to capitalise on discontent around the Brexit deal with party supporters distributing large numbers of ‘Join UKIP’ postcards and numerous party officials giving speeches. The event ended with Stephen Lennon dramatically telling the crowd to join UKIP there and then, trying to do so himself on his phone. He joked to the crowd, “I don’t know which name to fill out.”
UKIP’s domination of the event – the march was fronted by a huge UKIP banner – clearly upset their rivals on the far right with the anti-Muslim party For Britain, well represented today, complaining about UKIP’s domination of the event in an email to supporters earlier in the week.
For Lennon, today was an opportunity to attract new people into his sphere by holding a demonstration on something other than Islam and Muslims.
However, both will likely be disappointed by the turnout on the day. While 5000 is a worrying and significant number for any far right event, it is significantly less than the organisers would have hoped. Earlier in the week Lennon said: “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”. Today certainly didn’t feel like momentum was building but rather plateauing.
Also evident was the fact that the event failed to attract the new respectable figures they had hoped. The crowd was very much the same old faces who have been holding pro-Tommy demonstrations all summer. In addition to UKIP and For Britain flags was the usual small contingent of Generation Identity flags and even alt-right Kekistani flags.
The plan was to meet outside the Dorchester Hotel in West London at 11:45 though a small contingent of Men’s Right’s activists and Lennon supporters met at Hyde Park corner earlier to preach anti-feminism. The bulk of the crowd massed near the hotel with the constant sound of bagpipes, no doubt annoying the residents of the £400 a night hotel.
Worryingly there were numerous signs calling Prime Minister May a ‘traitor’, a dangerous narrative in the post-Jo Cox era. One man even carried a full sized gallows and noose. Another sign on display stated, “Lügenpresse”, a slur against the media popularised by the Nazis, and seen in the crowds at Trump rallies.
The march crawled down towards Victoria and then up to Parliament square by about 2pm.
The usual parade of speeches followed with UKIP dominating proceedings with speeches by Batten, Paul Oakley, Robin Hill, Lord Pearson and Stuart Agnew MEP who called man-made climate change a scam.
Anti-feminist vlogger Carl Benjamin (AKA Sargon of Akkad) also spoke as billed alongside a Czech politician, while disgraced former-Tory Neil Hamilton even made an appearance and gave a speech about fuel poverty to an increasingly bored crowd.
The event was heavily policed meaning there was little chance of trouble and the counter-protest – which dwarfed Lennon’s event – was kept well away meaning those keen on trouble only had the press to attack with numerous photographers being physically ejected from the press area by angry Lennon supporters.
This will likely mark the last major far right demonstration this year and it wasn’t the major success Lennon and Batten would have hoped for. However, we must remember that 5000 people is still an unacceptably large number and not normal in the UK. While Lennon hasn’t managed to capitalise on Brexit by attracting a mass of new supporters, today proved he still has a large and loyal following that will come onto the streets for any reason he wants.