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Former Trump adviser Steve Bannon claims Tommy Robinson is 'the backbone of Britain'

'I don’t think he’s a bad guy. I think he’s a solid guy'

Chris Baynes
Wednesday 18 July 2018 14:35 BST
Steve Bannon clashes with LBC political editor Theo Usherwood over Tommy Robinson sentence

Donald Trump’s former chief strategist Steve Bannon has claimed jailed far-right leader Tommy Robinson is “the backbone” of Britain.

The comment reportedly came during an off-air tirade at a journalist who challenged him during Nigel Farage’s LBC radio show.

During Sunday morning’s programme, Mr Bannon called for the release of Robinson, who is serving a 13-month prison term for contempt of court, and described him as a “solid guy”.

The English Defence League (EDL) founder, real name Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, admitted the offence after filming a Facebook Live video that risked prejudicing an ongoing trial under blanket reporting restrictions.

Thousands of people watched Robinson’s broadcast as he attempted to film defendants entering the court and discussed the case

Discussing Robinson on Mr Farage’s phone-in show, Mr Bannon said: “I don’t think he’s a bad guy. I think he’s a solid guy and I think he’s got to be released from prison.”

LBC’s political editor, Theo Usherwood, interjected to point out Robinson “broke the law”.

“A lot of people would say that that law is too restrictive,” Mr Bannon replied, suggesting the details of Robinson’s crime were “highly technical”. He asked Mr Usherwood: “Are you a news guy? You’ve got to go a lot better.”

The journalist replied: “I’m calling you out on something.”

Mr Farage then ended the row, saying: “I take the view as well that Tommy broke the law.”

Following the programme, Mr Usherwood tweeted that Mr Bannon had raged at him as soon as they were off-air.

He said the former Breitbart chairman told him: “F*** you. Don’t you f***ing say you’re calling me out. You f***ing liberal elite. Tommy Robinson is the backbone of this country.”

Former Ukip adviser and Breitbart London editor Raheem Kassam, who was in the studio, did not dispute Mr Usherwood’s version of events, although he accused the LBC journalist of tweeting “off-the-record conversations”.

Mr Usherwood denied this, tweeting: “For the record, nothing was agreed beforehand. At the end of the interview, the mics went down, Steve put his headphones on the desk, stood up and made his feelings known. If he wanted the conversation to be off-the-record, he should have said.”

Speaking to LBC presenter Maajid Nawaz after the row, Mr Usherwood said the former White House advisor had been “furious”.

The row began after the journalist challenged Mr Bannon’s insistence that Robinson was “not an Islamophobe” by offering examples of the EDL founder’s anti-Muslim remarks.

“When you challenge him [Mr Bannon], when you call him out on it, the mask of respectability slips,” he added.

Earlier in the two-year programme, Mr Bannon called for listeners to “rise up” and “fight” to ensure a hard Brexit.

“If I was in middle England and said this wasn’t what I voted for I would rise up and make sure the guys in parliament knew it,” he told Mr Farage.

“You’re going to have to fight to take your country back, every day. Whether it’s Italy, France, England or the United States. If we quit, they’re going to be in control.”

Asked if his comments were “a call to arms”, he replied: “Absolutely.”

Mr Bannon has previously spoken of his desire to foment a populist uprising in Europe.

In March, he told The New York Times he wanted to build a vast network of nationalists to wage war on the establishment.

Mr Bannon’s call to free Robinson comes after Reuters reported that a US diplomat had lobbied the British ambassador over the far-right leader’s jailing.

Sam Brownback, Mr Trump’s ambassador for international religious freedom, is said to have suggested the UK should be more “sympathetic” to the far-right figurehead.

During a meeting in Washington DC in June, Mr Brownback reportedly even warned Sir Kim Darroch that the Trump administration might publicly criticise the UK’s handling of the case.

The US attempt to lobby on behalf of Robinson was described as a “disgrace” by anti-racism group Hope Not Hate.

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