Tommy Robinson is moving to Spain – but he’s no persecuted hero on the run

The far right activist has been campaigning against immigration for years. So what's really happening with the former English Defence League leader?

Louise Raw
Wednesday 29 July 2020 16:23 BST
Tommy Robinson says he wants to relocate abroad after alleged arson attack

Can Tommy Robinson speak Spanish? After his surprise announcement on Sunday that he plans to relocate to Spain, it is to be hoped he’s working hard on his Español – Robinson has, after all, spent decades opposing emigration for others, and supporting the view that those unable to speak a country’s language, shouldn’t live there.

News of his plans dropped in a video in which he claimed he’d been forced to leave England after an arson attack on “my property … my wife’s property”.

In reporting Robinson's story, the Daily Mail concluded an arson attack on his home had caused him to flee.

For those like me, with knowledge of Robinson’s modus operandi, this didn’t track. For one thing, he’d actually been secretly in Spain for at least two weeks at that point – his cover had been blown on 12 July, when drill artist SusTrapperazzi released footage of his friend encountering Robinson by chance on holiday, and calling him out for racism.

Prior to this Robinson had neither admitted to being abroad nor spoken about the apparent attack – unusual, as he’s generally quick to publicise and exaggerate any perceived threat against him, often as a basis for asking for donations from supporters.

The address of his previous million-pound home in Bedfordshire was well known, yet never attacked – in spite of Robinson’s own penchant for “doorstepping” his critics at their homes, sometimes in the middle of the night.

The closest he came was when legal papers were served there informing him he was being sued for defamation against a young Syrian refugee; Robinson quickly released a video implying his family had been endangered by this.

It was unlike him, therefore, to be so circumspect.

Journalist Lizzie Dearden, who is familiar with Robinson, checked his story with Bedfordshire police, who confirmed no attack on his home had been reported. There seemed to have been an incident involving a car; but Robinson, a man with more spin than a fairground roundabout, presumably knew suggestions he’d fled danger would elicit more sympathy and, perhaps, donations.

His slip up in referring to his property and hastily changing it to “my wife’s”, might mean he’s transferred assets into her name in case he loses the defamation case.

So what’s really going on? It appears that Robinson was forced to reveal his trip when pressure grew from his own camp.

He was supposed to be key speaker at a far right demonstration in London this coming Saturday – there are still those who look to him as a leader, despite the resounding failure of his MEP bid last year; it was only in 2018 that he was dining in the House of Lords and seemed a real contender, after all, and the dream dies hard for Robinson fanatics.

But he’d failed to turn up at a demo in London on 13 June to “protect statues” – which turned into a drunken debacle for his side, with Far Right supporters attacking police and Black Lives Matter activists.

What better way to get out of his no-shows than presenting himself as a persecuted hero on the run?

Behind the scenes, however, his allies were unconvinced. Why had they heard nothing of the supposed attack, or his trip, before? Anne Marie Waters of For Britain has privately said she feels “let down” – though publicly going along with the face-saving “martyr” narrative.

So what next for Robinson? Will the Spanish authorities welcome someone with a long history of criminal convictions for fraud, violence, and attempting to pervert the course of justice?

If not, it’s possible Robinson has the chutzpah to try to claim political asylum. Under Spanish law, you can be considered for this if from a non-EU country – Robinson’s tireless support for Brexit may have helped him here – but can’t have committed a serious crime, be guilty of “acts contrary to the principles and purpose of the United Nations”, or “constitute a danger to the ... security of Spain”. These would be harder hurdles to clear.

Either way, this is a huge blow for supporters. A spokesperson for Unite Against Fascism, who have opposed Robinson politically and on the street for years, told me: “Facing yet another trial and a probable damp squib demonstration this weekend, fascist and Islamophobe Robinson appears to have constructed a highly dubious tale. We say, ‘fake news’!”

Robinson has stoked racism in the UK for years, presenting himself as a fearless fighter for England and its threatened “values”, for which he has said he would “rather die on my feet than live on my knees”. This inadvertent echoing of the words of Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata, a man for whom retirement to Spain was most definitely not an option, is just one of the many ironies of Robinson’s possibly permanent holiday in the sun.

Dr Louise Raw is the author of Striking a Light (Bloomsbury Press) on the Bryant and May Matchwomen

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