26 Apr 2014

March for England: Brighton braced for nationalist protest

A £500,000 police operation is planned in Brighton on Sunday to stop clashes between a nationalist march and local anti-fascists. Channel 4 News tracks the rise of the annual “March for England”.

The now annual March For England (MFE) will bring parts of Brighton to a standstill on Sunday. A major police operation will be mounted to get the nationalist group through the town as thousands of anti-fascists take to the streets.

Masked anti-fascists and far-right nationalists fought on the streets of Brighton last year despite a major police operation, in a political feud that has turned increasingly violent in recent years.

The MFE is billed as a celebration of national pride, timed to coincide with St George’s day, and for the last six years organisers have held an annual event in Brighton.

In previous years the event has offered itself as a fun day out for families, though counter-protesters claim there are links to the English Defence League and far-right group Casuals United.

Below: March For England passes counter-protesters in 2010

Escalating tensions – timeline of March for England

Two Tottenham Hotspur fans found the group as March for the Flag and rename in November as March for England, holding two small marches in London.

The first official MFE event in Brighton goes ahead unopposed, a group of 100 marchers parading through the town carrying England flags.

The group returns, rallying at the train station before marching through the streets, again without any difficulties, but claims later surfaced that passers-by were racially abused.

Due to the MFE being pictured with the EDL and other “counter-jihadi” nationalist micro-groups, Unite Against Fascism call a counter-protest.

In August the more hard-line right-wing nationalists from the English National Alliance and EDL are drawn to Brighton in the wake of the anti-fascist protest, holding their own march during which one anti-fascist is hospitalised.

Ahead of the MFE, a meeting of Unite Against Fascism is attacked by a group of 30 nationalists. Three weeks later MFE is met by a large counter-protest outside Brighton station and a large police presence surrounds the march as it makes its way through the town.

A large and militant anti-fascist protest confronts the MFE. Two police officers suffer head injuries in street battles with anti-fasicsts and batons are drawn.

A group of 140 MFE marchers are escorted by a large police presence as counter-protesters blockade streets. Police release images of protesters after the march, seeking information, and report that a “considerable amount of violence was directed towards the marchers”.

Aggresive scenes, as anti-fascists openly beat up a contingent of EDL supporters on the seafront.

An estimated 2,000 counter-protesters turned out for the event, with the far-right now taking an open role in rallying numbers for MFE.

Sussex police stage an extensive operation, erecting a ring of steel in a bid to keep the two factions apart. Militant anti-fascists declare the day a victory, with images of bloodied nationalists circulated online.

Brighton is seen by the far-right as a liberal stronghold with sizeable radical left wing and anarchist groups in the region, who see the march as a provocation.

Protest group Stop MFE is hoping to mobilise people from the local community against Sunday’s march.

A statement by the Stop MFE group warns; “Neo-Nazis, Friends of Golden Dawn, supporters of the swastika waving Greek fascist party, have stated they will be attending March for England.

“We believe that ideologies of hate flourish when they are ignored and want the people of Brighton to show that the religious prejudice, racism and fascism of the English Defence League isn’t welcome here or anywhere.”

When groups like this come to Brighton it is because our multicultural city in all its diversity proves that their own doctrine of hate is wrong
Brighton Unity Against Racism

When contacted by Channel 4 News, MFE said it did not have anyone who would speak to the press ahead of the march.

A statement signed by Green MP Caroline Lucas and Brighton Trades Council urged locals to oppose the March for England, declaring; “In Brighton we all stand together. And when someone tries to threaten our community we must stand together even more firmly.

“When groups like this come to Brighton it is because our multicultural city in all its diversity proves that their own doctrine of hate is wrong, and they want to damage our unity.”

Police restrictions

Sussex police have imposed strict conditions on the protests, with two section 14 notices issued, which gives police the power to impose restrictions on public assemblies in a bid to keep the two protests apart.

Police have warned that people taking part are not allowed to carry any banners other than those supporting the March for England or the cross of St George.

In a statement, Sussex police explained their decision not to ban the event: “The extreme option of seeking a banning order through the home secretary can only be taken when serious disorder cannot be prevented with the resources and legislation already available.

“Serious disorder means widespread violent behaviour. This could take the form of violent protest, rioting, criminal damage, looting and may include the use of weapons.

“Whilst there have been small pockets of disorder in previous years, these were contained by increasing the number of officers in the city.”

Police are also facing a last-minute headache after the area where nationalist marchers were due to assemble after the road partially collapsed.

Workmen were fixing a fire exit on Brighton’s King’s Road when the road collapsed, leaving a hole where the crowd was due to congregate.