When Tommy Robinson announced two years ago that he was quitting the English Defence League (EDL) and embracing multi-culturalism it was hailed as one of the more improbable volte faces in recent times.
Appearing alongside two former Islamist activists, the EDL founder declared his group to be “part of the problem” and said he would be working with the counter-extremist Quilliam Foundation to combat Islamism.
But this weekend Robinson seemed to have returned to his roots after he travelled to the Netherlands to address a rally of the anti-Islam movement Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the Occident (Pegida) and declared that he was “proud” to have set up the EDL. The far-right figurehead appeared alongside the leaders of Pegida in the Dutch city of Utrecht to call for a day of protest across Europe. He described his former EDL colleagues as “brave and fearless”.
Beginning in Dresden in Germany, Pegida has drawn thousands to its protest marches with calls for stricter enforcement of the country’s asylum laws. Chancellor Angela Merkel has described the demonstrations as xenophobic and racist.
In pictures: Anti-Pegida protesters
In pictures: Anti-Pegida protesters
A police officer talks to a counterprotestor at the sidelines of right-wing movement 'Baergida' (Berlin Patriots against the islamization of the Occident), a Berlin version of Pegida (Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the Occident), protest in Berlin
Participants of right-wing movement 'Baergida' (Berlin Patriots against the islamization of the Occident), a Berlin version of Pegida (Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the Occident), protest in Berlin
People protest against right-wing initiative Pegida with a sign reading 'Stop agitation against Islam' in Berlin
Participants of the 'Alliance against Racism' demonstrate against right-wing initiative Pegida (Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the Occident) in Berlin. Counterdemonstrations against racism and xenophobia have been planned in Dresden, Berlin, Cologne and Stuttgart. The demonstrations staged by the anti-Islamic Pegida movement produce a series of slogans arguing that Germany is taking in too many foreigners, that the social structures are about to collapse due to the rising number of asylum-seekers, and that there is the threat of an 'Islamisation of the Occident'
German Justice Minister Heiko Maas takes part in a protest against the march of a grass-roots anti-Muslim movement in Berlin. The rise of the group, Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West (Pegida), has shaken Germany's political establishment
The lighting of the Brqandenburg Gate was switched off to make a statement against racism as People protest against right-wing initiative Pegida in Berlin
A left wing activist struggles with the riot police during a protest against a planed march of the Pegida movement in their first Berlin demonstration, which they have dubbed 'Baergida'
People protest against right-wing initiative Pegida in Hamburg
People protest against right-wing initiative Pegida in Munich
People protest against right-wing initiative Pegida in Stuttgart
Robinson told the rally that European culture was being imperilled by “fake refugees who have no intention of integration and no intention of assimilation”. He said: “There is a reason why the state fears me in England. It is because we can bring people together and we are going to enter into a new era in Europe where everyone is going to unite against the Islamisation of our countries.”
The reappearance of Robinson follows his imprisonment earlier this year after he was recalled to jail following a conviction for mortgage fraud in 2014.
No one would know who I am if it wasn’t for the brave and fearless people of the English Defence League
The 32-year-old from Luton, Bedfordshire, appeared at a press conference in October 2013 alongside the founders of the Quilliam Foundation to announce that he was leaving the EDL, the far-right street protest group he set up and which staged a series of violent demonstrations across the country.
The founding chairman of the Quilliam Foundation, Maajid Nawaz, said: “We never said [Robinson] changed views. We said we helped him resign as leader of EDL, leaving them leaderless and less effective.” But Robinson told the Utrecht rally: “No one would know who I am if it wasn’t for the brave and fearless people of the English Defence League,” he said.
He said he does not intend to rejoin the EDL. “Do I think we should go back to the street demonstrations that we had with the EDL? No. But I think the time has come to unite across Europe because we have to save our culture.”