5 Feb 2011

EDL and anti-fascists in Luton stand-off

More than 1,000 police officers are deployed in Luton as anti-fascists gather to counter a demonstration by the far-right English Defence League.

Far-right English Defence League (EDL) demonstrators protest in Luton

A march in Luton involving an estimated 3,000 supporters of the far-right English Defence League passed off without any significant incidents this afternoon.

Counter-demonstrations were organised by Unite Against Fascism and other sections of Luton’s Muslim community.

EDL supporters, attending the rally billed “Back to where it all began”, were escorted to and from Luton train station by police.

More than 1,000 officers were involved in keeping the two sides apart. The operation is estimated to have cost more than £800,000.

The demonstration took place on the day prime Minister David Cameron told a security conference in Munich that multiculturalism had failed in the UK. The Prime Minister called for a “muscular liberalism” to challenge Islamist extremism.

EDL founder Stephen Lennon did not attend the demonstration because he is under police protection. He said yesterday he had been warned his life was in danger if he led the protest.

The message to the EDL is clear: this is not your home, you are not welcome here. Labour MEP Richard Howitt

In a message that was read out, Mr Lennon told the crowd: “There are no racial tensions in Luton, just religious tensions.”

Addressing the crowd at a counter-demonation, Labour MEP Richard Howitt dismissed the EDL as “racist thugs”. He said: “The message to the EDL is clear: this is not your home, you are not welcome here.”

Luton North MP Kelvin Hopkins, who has lived in Luton for more than four decades, said: “The EDL are completely out of place here. It’s right that we show our opposition, and I am glad Unite Against Fascism has come here today.”

Last October the Home Secretary announced a ban on marches in Leicester ahead of a proposed EDL demonstration.