Tommy Robinson's brand of far-right extremism has no place in Britain
We must challenge the former EDL leader's poisonous views - as well as the underlying problems that fuel his support, says the Liberal Democrat Home Affairs spokesperson Ed Davey MP.
A man is charged with contempt of court for recording and posting online a video that risked derailing an ongoing rape trial in Canterbury. He’s given a three-month suspended sentence and warned that, if he does something similar again, he will be sent to prison. A year later, he does the same thing in Leeds. He pleads guilty and is sentenced to 13 months behind bars.
So far, so unremarkable. But because that man is the Islamophobic hate preacher Tommy Robinson, his sentencing ignites protests by far-right extremists. They carry signs saying “F--- Muslims”, give Nazi salutes, and throw bottles and scaffolding at police officers.
Robinson and his supporters may wrap themselves in the Cross of Saint George, but there is nothing English about their poisonous combination of racism, violence and hatred.
Indeed, it’s the American far-right that has taken a particular interest in Robinson’s case. They’ve bankrolled his legal costs and spoken at “Free Tommy Robinson” rallies. Donald Trump’s administration even reportedly lobbied the British ambassador on his behalf. Steve Bannon – the man who ran Trump’s presidential campaign – has called for Robinson’s release and described him as “the f---ing backbone of this country”.
Now, Bannon is apparently setting up an organisation to elect far-right politicians across Europe, led by Nigel Farage and France’s Marine Le Pen. Reportedly, he wants Robinson to play a key role for him here in the UK.
Let’s be clear: extreme right-wing ideology has no place in British politics. We must challenge it head-on and tackle the underlying problems that cause some to turn to it. Chief amongst these is the lack of opportunity and feeling of powerlessness that afflicts far too many in our society.
The likes of Bannon and Robinson must not be indulged as “free speech martyrs” or “anti-establishment populists”. Instead, they should be exiled to the fringes of society where they belong.
Yet there are some in British politics who rather than pushing them away are cosying up to these figures.
Jacob Rees-Mogg met with Bannon last year, and we learnt last week that Boris Johnson has been conversing privately with him too. Gerard Batten, the UKIP leader and MEP who has himself called Islam a “death cult”, described Robinson as a “hero” who is “on the right side of a great cause”.
These are mainstream politicians giving legitimacy and credibility to abhorrent extremists, in the hope that it will further their own personal ambitions. Their behaviour is irresponsible and dangerous – especially at a time when hate crimes are on the rise.
The police recorded a significant rise in racially and religiously motivated offences immediately after the EU referendum, and again following the terrorist attacks in London and Manchester last year. Politicians of all parties should condemn these crimes unequivocally, not bend the knee to those whose rhetoric fuels hatred.
As history has repeatedly shown, far-right extremism is an incredibly destructive force. Liberal Democrats will always stand up to those who seek to spread it. We must ensure that racism and Islamophobia are never allowed to gain a foothold in British politics.
Rt Hon Sir Edward Davey is the Liberal Democrat Home Affairs spokesperson and the MP for Kingston and Surbiton