Tommy Robinson given role by populist UK Independence Party despite convictions for violence and fraud
Brexit party leader hires prominent anti-Muslim extremist as adviser
The right-wing extremist dubbed the loudest Islamophobic voice in Britain has been appointed an adviser to the leader of a British political party that championed the campaign to leave the European Union.
Tommy Robinson has been brought in by Gerard Batten of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) to give his views on so-called grooming gangs and prison reform despite having a history of criminality and leading violent demonstrations against Islam.
UKIP has no MPs and has shifted to the political side lines after its charismatic former leader Nigel Farage quit having played a prominent role in persuading Britons to vote to quit the EU.
Under new leadership, UKIP has lurched further to the right culminating in the appointment of Mr Robinson despite him being barred from holding membership under party rules.
Mr Farage said on Friday that he was appalled at the appointment of Mr Robinson and called for Mr Batten, to be dumped.
He said the selection of Mr Robinson, a former leader of the extremist English Defence League, was dragging the party in a “shameful direction”.
In 2014, UKIP had two MPs and won the third highest number of votes in national elections the following year but has seen its support decline since. It retains lawmakers in lower-tier representative bodies and at the European parliament.
Mr Batten claimed that Mr Robinson had been “persecuted by the state” because of his views. Mr Robinson has used the convictions of Asian men for grooming and raping young women to further his anti-Muslim agenda.
“A lot of people respect his stand on things and his courage,” Mr Batten told the BBC. “Islamophobic is a made-up word... I don’t have an irrational fear of Islam, nor does Tommy Robinson.”
Mr Robinson is the most recognisable face of the far-right and the tie-up has the potential to lift his party out of the doldrums.
While the party has fewer than 13,000 followers on its official YouTube channel, Robinson has more than 270,000 for a medium he uses to raise money and to promote himself and his anti-Islam world view.
But his role in violent street protests, targeting Muslim-majority areas in confrontational campaigns and using a counter-terrorist agenda to promote an anti-Muslim agenda has seen him condemned and shunned by mainstream political parties.
He has, however, secured support and financial backing from prominent figures in the United States after emerging as the most recognisable anti-Muslim personality on the far-right in the UK.
Steve Bannon, Donald Trump’s former strategist, described Mr Robinson, who has convictions for violence, mortgage fraud and drug offences, as a “force of nature” and was seen as a potential key figure in the American’s plans for a European far-right movement.
Mr Robinson’s ability to raise money for his campaign came into sharp focus earlier this month when he was barred from travelling to the US this month for speaking engagements that anti-fascist group Hope Not Hate claimed could net him some £1 million.
Campaigners feared a ban from entering the US because of a 2013 conviction for using a false passport could be lifted. More than 50 UK lawmakers wrote to the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to press him to uphold the ban.
But Mr Robinson is still due to take part in a five-date tour of Australia next month along with Gavin McInnes, a Canadian who co-founded the Vice Media group. The tour website offers tickets from 85 Australian dollars (225 AED) to a 995 Australian dollar-package (2,650 AED) that included a pre-show private dinner with the two men.
Analysts say Mr Robinson mixes small donations from mainstream payment engines with larger donations from far-right US figures including Robert Shillman, a successful manufacturer of high-tech equipment, and Pamela Geller, a US far-right political activist.
Ms Geller was barred from Britain in 2013 when she planned to speak at an EDL rally to mark the murder of a soldier by Islamist extremists.
An activist campaign led to PayPal cutting off its services to Mr Robinson, who has switched to requesting his followers to send him bitcoin to help fund his activities.
The organisers of the activist campaign said they would seek to publicly shame other providers into blocking Mr Robinson from using their platforms.
Tom Barns, said 65,000 members of his group SumOfUs used Twitter and petition campaigns to pressure PayPal to cut its ties with a man he described as the “loudest Islamophobic voice in Britain”.
“They wouldn’t have taken this step without public pressure,” said the UK-based campaigner. He said it also sent a strong message to corporations not to seek profit where “that puts communities around the world in danger”.
Mr Robinson claimed he was the victim of a conspiracy. “This is their attempt to remove me,” he said in a filmed clip posted on his YouTube site.
“They can see the support we are galvanising. By closing my PayPal account it closes my ability to continue working - and they know that.”
Instead of travelling to the US, Mr Robinson instead spoke about his bar from PayPal via videolink to a closed-doors meeting in Washington hosted by a Republican congressman, Paul Gosar, and the right-wing Middle East Forum (MEF).
The MEF has paid some of Mr Robinson’s legal fees after he was jailed for making comments outside a UK court that could have threatened to cause the trial to collapse. He was jailed for 13 months but freed on appeal and faces a possible retrial.