MPs are demanding a ban on a march through one of London’s most multicultural areas by the far-right English Defence League.
In a letter to the Home Office and the Metropolitan Police, seen by Channel 4 News, both of the MPs representing the Tower Hamlets borough of east London called the anti-Muslim group’s march, which is planned for Saturday 7 September, a “deplorable hate preaching tactic which we have seen result in serious violence multiple times before”.
Writing to Police Minister Damian Green on 23 August, Rushanara Ali and Jim Fitzpatrick, Labour MPs for Bethnal Green and Bow and Poplar and Limehouse, added: “It is our firm belief that this march…[poses] a serious threat to both individuals and wider Tower Hamlets community cohesion.”
Their calls echo similar demands from the local council this month and come two years after violent clashes between the EDL and both police and anti-fascist groups in Tower Hamlets. The letter describes the concerns the two MPs said many in the area feel about the EDL’s return.
They wrote that the “historical violence of EDL marches, including previously in Tower Hamlets, and the heightened tensions and threats made against the Muslim community since Drummer Lee Rigby’s death, leads us to strongly urge [the police and the government] to prevent this march from taking place”.
They added: “It stands clear that the purpose of this march is not to present a political viewpoint but to preach division and hate against a specific minority group. We believe that the incendiary nature of a far-right group with a demonstrable record of violence demonstrating outside one of the country’s biggest mosques, against a background of increased attacks against Muslims, presents a real threat to community safety.”
And they quoted from a previous letter they said they received from the Home Office, in which they claimed to have been told: “The government will not tolerate groups like the EDL who try to demonise Islam, who seek to divide us by stoking up anti-Muslim hatred and who deliberately raise community tensions by bringing disorder and violence to our towns and cities. Where there is evidence that any march will result in serious disorder the police have powers to alter its location or prevent it going ahead.”
Tower Hamlets is home to large communities of various ethnic minorities, including many Muslims. East London Mosque, one of Britain’s largest, is also in the borough and EDL leader Tommy Robinson – aka Stephen Yaxley-Lennon – has previously stated his intention to go straight there.
An anti-fascist group said it was intending to oppose the EDL, should it try to march in Tower Hamlets. The national Anti-Fascist Network will hold a planning and fundraising meeting on Saturday night. Previously, groups such as Unite Against Fascism have also opposed the EDL and it has stated its intention to do so again.
Mr Robinson is currently on bail after being arrested, along with his cousin and EDL co-leader Kevin Carroll, for obstructing the police during a march in central London in June.
He said he is due to appear in court four days after the planned Tower Hamlets march. And he added that, while his bail conditions prohibit his entering the borough, he has been given permission to march nevertheless.
Responding to news of the letter, he said that, if the EDL’s marches were to be banned, the government should consider banning other “extremist” and “terrorist” groups he claimed operate in the Tower Hamlets area.
He said: “The police don’t support [the call for a ban]. We have had our planning meetings.”
A Home Office spokesman said that it was up to the police to request a ban on a march, adding that Home Secretary Theresa May has the power to do so under section 13 of the public order act, but only if other conditions – such as an agreed route or limits on the size of the demonstration – fail to remove the threat of serious public disorder.
The spokesman refused to comment on the letter or to confirm whether such a request has been received from police. A Metropolitan Police spokesman did not respond to requests for comment.
By Kevin Rawlinson