Bolton Council last night unanimously backed the authority’s appeal to Home Secretary Alan Johnson to ban a planned English Defence League rally later this month.
A motion was tabled in the name of Labour council leader Cllr Cliff Morris, Conservative group leader Cllr John Walsh and Lib-Dem leader Cllr Roger Hayes. It said the council was “very concerned” about the planned EDL rally, which is due to take place in Victoria Square on March 20. Bolton Council is currently putting together a proposal to send to Mr Johnson.
Neither the council nor Greater Manchester Police has the power to ban a static demonstration under current legislation and the council is keen to stress that it does not want to suppress free speech. However, the council is concerned about the associated threat of public disorder on the day and the impact that could have on the town.
These points will be emphasised in the submission to the Home Secretary. Cllr Morris revealed that he is seeking a face-to-face meeting with Home Office ministers to put forward Bolton’s case for banning the rally The motion at last night’s meeting stated: “Bolton has a very strong track record on community cohesion. The council is confident that this will not be harmed by the EDL and urges local people not to be provoked by the prospect of the EDL event.”
Before last night’s council meeting, members of Bolton Against Racism (BAR) and the local Green Party held a demonstration outside, urging councillors to support the motion. BAR chairman Helen McHugh said: “We are united in Bolton and we want the Government to back the calls to ban the rally.”
Today, police and Town Hall chiefs are due to meet with town centre businesses, to update them. It is understood that shops, pubs and other businesses will be given up to date information and then given the chance to make an informed choice over whether to remain open on the day of the demonstration.
The EDL, which says it protests against Islamic extremism in the UK, originally planned to hold the rally this Saturday, March 6. However, it postponed the rally because a Hindu festival was taking place on the same day.
Previous demonstrations in Stoke and Manchester have seen violent clashes between EDL supporters and opponents. In October, 44 people were arrested during a protest by the EDL in Manchester city centre, when opponents held a counter rally.
Bolton Against Racism has already announced it plans to hold a “celebration of unity” event on the same day, although the organisers have said they would be willing to stage the event away from the EDL rally. According to websites, protesters against the rally plan to arrive in numbers, as part of a UAF counter-demonstration.