Josh Halliday, The Guardian, April 25, 2019
Faith leaders and politicians from across Manchester have united to condemn the anti-Islam activist Tommy Robinson, who has announced plans to stand as an MEP in the European elections.
Robinson, whose real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, is holding an event in Wythenshawe, south Manchester, on Thursday evening at which he is expected to address supporters on his first foray into frontline politics.
Robinson, who founded the far-right English Defence League nine years ago, is standing as an independent candidate, meaning he will be in opposition to Ukip despite having been appointed as an adviser by its leader, Gerard Batten.
On a campaign website, Robinson says he plans to speak out against “the Islamification of Britain” if he is elected as MEP for the north-west of England. He is expected to be supported by the far-right party For Britain in the campaign.
It is expected he will be joined at the Manchester event by the For Britain leader, Anne Marie Waters, who has described Islam as “evil” and promised to ban the burqa if elected.
The event has been met with near-universal condemnation in Manchester. Mike Kane, the Labour MP for Wythenshawe and Sale East, signed a joint letter with Christian, Jewish and Muslim faith leaders saying Robinson’s “far-right political views are not welcome in our town and our great city”.
The letter said: “We want to make this statement about Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, also known as Tommy Robinson. Together, on behalf of our community, we felt it necessary to speak out against his visit. We are firm in our belief that violence and racism have no place in our political discourse.
“Wythenshawe is a proud community. It is our community. It is a community that rejects hate and works tirelessly for the common good. A community with a bright future.”
It said Wythenshawe had a long history of welcoming people from around the world and that “if we were to welcome this man we’d be dismissing the valued contribution these people have made to the area”.
It continued: “As community leaders, we call upon our communities to reject the politics of division and hate.”
Local Labour party councillors said they were “horrified” by Robinson’s presence in the area and had been contacted by many concerned residents. “We condemn his disruptive presence here tonight and believe there is no place for hate and division in our community,” they said.
While Robinson has tried to keep a lid on his plans, the Guardian has learned that he submitted papers confirming his election bid and paid the £5,000 deposit last week. His campaign website was registered 10 days ago.
He is facing competition from nine political parties, including Ukip and the Brexit party, in his bid to be elected as one of eight MEPs for north-west England on 23 May. In 2014 the north-west elected three Ukip candidates, who have all since left the party.
Other pro-Brexit candidates standing in the region include Nathan Ryding, the chairman of Ukip’s youth wing, as well as the Brexit party candidates David Bull, a television commentator and doctor, and Claire Fox, a former Revolutionary Communist party member.
The event in Wythenshawe was billed as a family-friendly barbecue, with supporters directed to a small public green opposite a Methodist church.
However, the owner of the land, Wythenshawe community housing group, said it had “explicitly declined” its use for the event and Robinson had been told by the police he had no permission to hold his event there.
Despite the opposition, Robinson shared a picture of a van with a large-screen TV alongside the words “Tommy Robinson here tonight 8pm” in a message to his more than 30,000 followers on the app Telegram on Monday afternoon.
The event is due to take place opposite Brownley Green Methodist church, where the Rev Dave Warnock also voiced opposition to Robinson.
Warnock led a prayer walk at 2pm on Thursday to pray “for the safety and peace of everyone in our community”. He said he had also bought supplies of pasta, bread and chocolate cake to provide food and a safe place “for those who don’t feel safe in their homes this evening”.
The church said: “The Methodist church stands against racism in all its forms. The opinions previously expressed by Tommy Robinson do not reflect our beliefs and values.”
Anti-racism demonstrators were expected to stage a counter-protest to Robinson’s event, with Greater Manchester police on alert for any disorder.
Nahella Ashraf from Stand Up To Racism Manchester said: “He is not welcome in Wythenshawe, nor anywhere in the north-west.”
John Morgan, the Manchester district secretary of the National Education Union, said: “We will oppose any attempt to disrupt the multicultural city that is Manchester.”
Robinson founded the EDL, a far-right Islamophobic group, in 2009. He frequently complains of being smeared as a racist, insisting he does not care about skin colour and his objection is to Islamist political ideology rather than people.
However, he has been filmed making remarks including “Somalis are backward barbarians”, calling British Muslims “enemy combatants who want to kill you, maim you and destroy you”, and claiming refugees are “raping their way through the country”.
A Manchester city council spokesman said: “Neither the council nor landowners, Wythenshawe community housing group, have given permission for this event to take place. Together with Greater Manchester police and WCHG, we will be monitoring it closely to ensure that any disruption to nearby residents is minimised.”