Tommy Robinson returns to spotlight amid pro-Palestinian protests

Former English Defence League leader using Gaza war demonstrations to raise his profile

Far-right activist Tommy Robinson looks on as police block the access to the Cenotaph where the Armistice Day service was taking place in London. EPA
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Britain’s protests over the Israel-Gaza war have led to the return to prominence of the far-right figure Tommy Robinson.

The activist used the opportunity to counter-demonstrate against the massive pro-Palestinian march in London at the weekend to promote his profile.

Having been in obscurity for several years after serving time in jail for contempt of court, the diminutive former leader of the English Defence League took to the streets with a gaggle of supporters on Saturday.

He used X, formerly Twitter, to call for far-right groups to protest in London. “Terrorist organisations, flags and banners are flying, calling for jihad and no one gets arrested, but they got someone holding a British flag and an English flag,” he said in a video.

“Our police and government go for the easy option. The silent majority have had enough in this country of the abuse and the liberties that are being taken on our sacred [Armistice] day.”

During his march through central London, supporters chanted “England till I die” and “we want our country back” with some waving Union and St George flags.

His supporters attempted to descend on Soho’s Chinatown but were barred by the police while Mr Robinson avoided the scuffles by slipping into a taxi.

The 40 year old’s apparent decision to avoid a high-profile confrontation suggests the hard-right figure is using the Israel-Gaza war to return to politics.

A man of high intelligence – he was selected among hundreds for an aircraft engineer apprenticeship aged 20 – Mr Robinson has used race relations and particularly Islamic issues to raise his profile.

The activist, whose real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, was banned from what was then Twitter for five years and has been sentenced to jail six times in the past 15 years. On one occasion he was convicted of libelling a 15-year-old Syrian refugee and of prejudicing the trial of an alleged child-grooming gang.

He also has convictions for football hooliganism and for assaulting an off-duty police officer, a crime for which he was sacked from his apprenticeship.

Without a clear career path and growing up in Luton, which has an ethnically diverse population, he took on what he saw as the “Islamification” of Britain by founding the EDL in 2009.

He was also motivated after allegedly discovering that extremists had recruited men from Luton to fight for the Taliban in Afghanistan against British soldiers.

But Mr Robinson left the EDL in 2013, stating it had been hijacked by extremists, and went on to befriend a reformed Islamic extremist called Maajid Nawaz. He later apologised for stoking fear among British Muslims and claimed it was extremism he disliked, not Muslims.

For a short period in 2018 he was appointed political adviser to the leader of Ukip, the British right-wing Eurosceptic party, prompting its founder Nigel Farage to resign.

When then-president Donald Trump was defeated in the 2020 US election, Mr Robinson was praised by the leader of the far-right Proud Boys after he called on the president to fight the election result.

He continues to have support from anti-Islamic groups in Denmark and Germany.

Updated: November 13, 2023, 9:44 AM