Far-right group still plans to hold 'static' bank holiday demonstration in Bradford
The home secretary, Theresa May, today authorised a ban on a planned march by far-right group the English Defence League (EDL), due to take place in Bradford later this month. The blanket ban prevents any marches in the city over the August bank holiday weekend, when the EDL had said it was planning to stage a demonstration members described as "the big one".
The Home Office said: "Having carefully balanced rights to protest against the need to ensure local communities and property are protected, the home secretary gave her consent to a Bradford council order banning any marches in the city over the bank holiday weekend. West Yorkshire police are committed to using their powers to ensure communities and property are protected, and we encourage all local people to work with the police to ensure community cohesion is not undermined by public disorder."
The decision by Bradford council to seek a marching ban followed a formal request by West Yorkshire chief constable Sir Norman Bettison, made after his force carried out a risk assessment of the proposed event. Bettison said he was taking the action after considering the "understandable concerns of the community".
"Having carefully considered the issues arising from any planned or unplanned march by protesters in Bradford, I have decided to apply to Bradford council for an order prohibiting the holding of a public procession on that day," he said.
However, police and the Home Office say there are no powers to prevent the EDL holding a "static demonstration", as they have done in other towns over the past year.
Anti-racist group Unite Against Fascism is planning to hold a counter "demonstration and carnival" in the city on the same day as the EDL's static protest. That event will also come under the home secretary's blanket ban on marches.
In a letter to the council, crime prevention minister James Brokenshire said the government "fully understands local concerns" that the EDL demonstration "has the potential to spark public disorder and to impact on community cohesion, particularly given the disturbances in Bradford in 2001". He wrote: "The application from the chief constable of West Yorkshire police is clear that the activities of some who attend English Defence League protests – and indeed counter-protests – has little to do with freedom of expression.
Brokenshire said the police had the power to impose conditions on the size, location and duration of a static protest if they believe it will result in serious public disorder. Officers may also be needed to escort groups to and from the protest, but "any such escort would be to safeguard local communities and should not be misinterpreted as a breach of the ban on marches".
Earlier this week a spokesman for the EDL said that although it may have to "modify its plans slightly", if the ban was granted, the Bradford demonstration would "most definitely still go ahead".
The decision to ban the march follows a campaign that saw more than 10,000 people in Bradford sign a petition which also received the backing of community and political leaders.
The EDL formed in Luton last year and has become the most significant far-right street movement in the UK since the National Front in the 1970s. It claims to be a peaceful, non-racist organisation opposed only to "militant Islam". But many of its demonstrations have ended in confrontations with the police after some supporters became involved in violence, as well as racist and Islamophobic chanting.
In May the Guardian revealed that the EDL was planning to step up its Islamophobic street campaign, targeting Tower Hamlets in London and Bradford.