Police are bracing for potential violence and disorder at a Brexit march led by Tommy Robinson and Ukip, as some demonstrators look to France’s “yellow vests” protesters for inspiration.
Roads in central London are to be closed off for Sunday’s “Brexit betrayal” demonstration and counter-protests, and officers may ask bars and pubs to shut in the surrounding area.
Robinson, the English Defence League (EDL) founder who has been welcomed into the Ukip fold as an adviser to leader Gerard Batten, has praised rioters in Paris on social media.
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Sharing footage of violence and vandalism to his more than one million Facebook followers, he characterised the movement as “anger at the corrupt political class”.
“Revolution is coming, prime minister May should take note,” Robinson wrote, while promoting the protest.
Some of his supporters are planning to wear yellow vests themselves, and a group calling themselves the “Yellowjackets Movement UK Division (sic)” has formed.
Members, including EDL, Britain First and For Britain supporters, have shared footage instructing viewers how to fight riot police and showing an effigy of Emmanuel Macron being beheaded.
“I would rather die on my feet fighting, than on my knees bowing down to the EU and Islam,” one man wrote.
The “yellow vests” movement, which saw fresh violence between protesters and police on Saturday, started over fuel tax increases but have broadened to encompass wider dissatisfaction over Mr Macron’s policies.
Ukip’s official event page for the Brexit march said it would be “a democratic and peaceful demonstration expressing the strength of feeling amongst Leavers”.
The party is looking to gain fresh momentum following a wave of resignations from MEPs and high-profile figures, including Nigel Farage, over Robinson’s appointment and Mr Batten’s focus on Islam.
Robinson called the exodus “brilliant”, adding: “Ukip needed to get rid of its dead wood and that’s what is happening. And then it can become a populist, revolutionist political party.”
Mr Batten has been bullish about Robinson’s appointment in television interviews, but in a Ukip Facebook video he admitted: “I do wonder if I made a wise decision, but I’ve asked him to do this for us and what he can bring to the table is access to a million Facebook followers.”
Some defectors told The Independent they fear Robinson could become its leader he is allowed to bypass rules banning former EDL and British National Party members.
The anti-Islam activist, whose real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, will be giving a speech at the march alongside controversial YouTubers who have been welcomed into Ukip in recent months.
They include Carl Benjamin, known as Sargon of Akkad, who gained notoriety in 2016 for prompting a wave of threats directed at Labour MP Jess Phillips by tweeting: “I wouldn’t even rape you.”
Protesters are due to march from Hyde Park to Parliament Square, where a rally will be held as police keep counter-demonstrators in a separate part of Westminster.
“We’ll be there for a couple of hours listening to the speakers and then go home in an orderly fashion,” Mr Batten said last week. “I’ve persuaded Tommy Robinson to talk about Brexit, that’s what he will be talking about. Brexit and the EU will be the only subjects on the agenda at that rally. We want as many there as possible to show you’re opposed to this withdrawal agreement, we want to dump the deal.”
Around 1,300 people have pledged to attend on Facebook and the number of marchers are not expected to approach the hundreds of thousands who demonstrated for a Final Say referendum on Brexit in October.
London’s Metropolitan Police have imposed strict conditions on the march and counter-protests in efforts to keep opposing demonstrators apart.
Police warned that anyone breaking restrictions under the Public Order Act, which require protesters to stay within designated areas and leave by a stated time, is committing a criminal offence and will be arrested.
Scotland Yard said the move was proportionate based on “current tensions and concerns”, intelligence and the violence seen at Free Tommy protests in the summer.
“The right to protest is a fundamental right in our democratic society, but this right must be balanced against the right of people to go about their day without fear of violence, disorder or disruption,” said Deputy Assistant Commissioner Laurence Taylor. ”Experience has shown us that when groups with conflicting views come together it can create tension and disorder, not just on the day itself but in the longer term.
“If you want to protest on Sunday we ask that you do so peacefully, no matter what your view. We will adopt a robust arrest policy on anyone who attends and is intent on violence and disorder, or is in breach of these conditions.”
Contingents of far-right groups including the EDL, For Britain and white nationalists Generation Identity are expected to be present.
International right-wing figures will also be in attendance, including blogger Avi Yemini who has been flown to Britain to cover the demonstration using crowdfunding by Robinson’s former employers Rebel Media.
An executive from American think-tank the Middle East Forum (MEF) was at an organisers’ meeting for the rally, alongside Robinson, Ukip leaders and supporter Daniel Thomas, who was jailed for attempted kidnap in 2016.
The MEF has supported Robinson financially since his imprisonment for contempt of court in May and organised “Free Tommy” rallies that turned violent earlier this year.
It organised a trip to Washington where Robinson was supposed to meet US Congress members in November, but he was not granted a visa in time and had to give a speech via video link.
Robinson had been scheduled to be on a speaking tour alongside Proud Boys founder Gavid McInnes in Australia this week but “cocked up his diary” by planning the Brexit march at the same time, his assistant said.
As tickets were selling for up to A$995 (£563) per head, organisers moved the tour to February.
Australian authorities have not confirmed whether Robinson, whose extensive criminal record includes convictions for violence, drug possession, public order offences and fraud, has been granted a visa.