Far-right activists find common cause with Farage over migrant 'invasion' of Britain

UK extremists seize on illegal immigrant surge across English Channel as opportunity for recruitment

Powered by automated translation

Nigel Farage, the former leader of the Brexit Party, can claim historical credit for the country's departure from the European Union but, now that the deed is done the populist campaigner has turned his sights to another inflammatory cause.

A torrent of YouTube videos from the former commodities broker has sought to stoke anger over the dinghy trips taken by many of the young migrants and refugees crossing the English Channel from France to the UK.

In shorts and striped shirts, Mr Farage has used the Channel as a backdrop to demand that London seals its borders to the continent and squash the annual summer spike in numbers. He has gone to hotels commandeered during the Covid-19 pandemic for housing new arrivals and confronted the staff. He has driven around coastal regions, giving back seat monologues as he searches for the "invasion".

In doing so, Mr Farage has made common cause with a swell in support from the far-right over the issue.

With the white cliffs of Dover looming in the background, “Captain” Samuel Cochrane vents his frustration at the water “taxis” that he says are taking people illegally to Britain.

A member of the far-right group Britain First, Mr Cochrane is referring to the vessels that rescue migrants and refugees from the small rubber dinghies they so often use to cross the 20-mile stretch of English Channel from Calais.

He is a former member of the Royal Navy but the title of captain is self-generated; he’s the unofficial commander of a Britain First patrol set up to stop the surge in the illegal entries into the UK by way of the Channel this year.


With more than 1,200 people having made the crossing in August alone – a monthly record – and nearly 4,500 so far this year, the Conservative government has been forced to ramp up its operations to stop migrants attempting the dangerous route.

Many are from Syria, Iran and Afghanistan and have a legitimate claim to asylum. Yet their crossings provoke anger in some quarters because they are leaving a safe country in France to seek it.

Groups such as Britain First are widely reviled in the UK but the underlying theme that agitates them is not. Even in the halls of Westminster, there is disgruntlement with 25 MPs from the ruling Conservative party describing the rise as an invasion.

There are fears that if Boris Johnson’s government does not take a strong enough stance on what many see as a legitimate issue, extremists could be empowered and given a platform for much more sinister views than they have expressed in the debate over illegal immigration.

Jack Buckby is a counter-extremism researcher and former member of the British National Party, an organisation widely regarded as fascist and a progenitor of Britain First.

Mr Buckby, who has since repudiated his former views, was drawn into the BNP as a teenager from a working-class background over immigration concerns.

He fears that a failure by the government to produce some sort of resolution could enable neo-Nazis to weaponise the issue.

“As long as this issue is dismissed by high-profile politicians and maybe people in the press, then what that does is make the issue untouchable and it gives legitimacy to genuinely extreme groups who will use it as propaganda,” he said.

“What’s scary about that is that if they can present themselves as right on this issue, illegal migrants coming over the Channel for instance, they can present themselves as right on other things. Jewish conspiracy theories and so on.”

Paul Golding, leader of Britain First. Getty Images
Paul Golding, leader of Britain First. Getty Images

The migration issue is not new to the UK – it played a key role in the Brexit debate and the Conservatives have long boasted about "taking back control" of the country’s borders.

A YouGov poll of 3,163 British adults conducted earlier this month found that only 44 per cent had a great deal or fair amount of sympathy for the migrants trying to cross the Channel.

Dr William Allchorn, of Leeds University, says that activists – including supporters of prominent far-right campaigner Tommy Robinson – have been opportunistic in seizing upon the migrant surge, which they describe on messaging services such as Telegram as an invasion.

Mr Allchorn views them as opportunistic, looking to pounce on issues beyond that of Brexit – whether migration-related or not – after the Conservative government succeeded in taking the UK out of the EU.

FILE PHOTO: A Border Force boat carrying migrants arrives at Dover harbour, in Dover, Britain August 10, 2020. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls/File Photo
A Border Force boat carrying migrants arrives at Dover harbour. Reuters 

“It’s been interesting since the Black Lives Matter moment back in the early summer because a lot of the language has been of a more racialised tone, moving away from this anti-Islam focus and towards more talking about ‘White Lives Matter’,” said Mr Allchorn, who is the associate director at the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right.

He observed that white supremacists mobilised – often via Telegram – to form counter demonstrations to the Black Lives Matter movement earlier this year.

“Their ultimate position or goal, whether stated or not, is to repatriate migrants back to their country of origin.“ Mr Allchorn said. “There is a seed of this in the UK government’s plan to rebuff migrants back to France but far-right extremists go further, taking it to a more pure and extreme ultimate end.”

The advocacy group Hope not Hate warned this week of the rise of Patriotic Alternative, an organisation launched in September last year, which is accused of anti-Semitism, white nationalism and fascism. It is led by Mark Collett, a former head of publicity at the BNP, who has praised Adolf Hitler.

While small in size, Patriotic Alternative has succeeded in bringing disparate groups together under one banner in only a short period of time and on 9 August held a day of action to mark International Indigenous People’s Day. Along with organisations such as Britain First and the BNP, it has criticised the Conservative government and accused it of “actively aiding and abetting the invasion of Britain”.

"The British people have no voice and no representation in any faction of the ruling establishment, which remains totally committed to our displacement and destitution," it said.

Recalling his own days in the BNP, Mr Buckby said that far-right groups are not using extraordinary tactics but they can very easily lure people to their cause.

“For as long as they are able to capitalise on those issues, they will continue recruiting and growing. It becomes part of the process,” he said.

“That was what happened to me. I got pulled into the BNP when I was 15, 16 because immigration was very high and it was hurting working-class communities like mine. After addressing those concerns, further down the line they start introducing really quite extreme stuff to you.”

Mr Buckby said it was important that – at least on the surface – the government appeared to be addressing the uproar, but warned that extremists were still capable of abusing the issue.

“At this point, the extreme-right, the neo-Nazis, will be saying exactly the same thing as Conservatives because that’s how this works,” he said. "They’ve found a legitimate issue, and that’s the anchor that gives them some facade of legitimacy and pulls concerned people in.

“Some Conservatives – not all – will be saying: ‘Listen this isn’t legitimate asylum, these aren’t legitimate refugees, this is a problem at the border that we have to solve.’ The extreme right is going to be saying the exact same thing because those things are true, and there’s no need to inject any element of conspiracy theory into it. At least," he said, "not yet.”

New record for illegal English Channel crossings

New record for illegal English Channel crossings