Anti-fascist counter-protesters declared Tommy Robinson supporters “can’t march unopposed” as opposing demonstrations were kept apart by police in central London on Saturday.
Singing “We want Tommy out”, hundreds of supporters of the jailed far-right activist congregated at Oxford Circus under strict conditions imposed by the Metropolitan police, which limited the groups to specific areas and a certain time period.
However, those conditions were almost immediately broken by a number of pro-Robinson demonstrators who moved off and marched partway down Oxford Street before making their way down Regent Street in the direction of Piccadilly Circus chanting: “Oh Tommy, Tommy.”
Just before 4pm, dozens of Robinson supporters approached Downing Street before police intervened, raised their batons and appeared to make arrests after a tense standoff.
The disorder on Whitehall followed chaotic scenes earlier in the day when Robinson’s supporters pelted a police van with missiles on Regent Street. Officers also drew batons outside the BBC headquarters where they formed a line to repel hundreds of pro-Robinson supporters who moved towards the counter-demonstration.
Crowds listened to various speakers outside All Souls church, where a bus was parked with Robinson’s face displayed along the side, as a flag earing the symbol of Generation Identity, a far-right pan-European group linked to racist attacks, was waved on the stage.
Earlier, a smaller group of Robinson supporters attempted to blindside police and shouted insults at anti-racist protesters from the cover of bushes, as officers stood just between them.
Carrying a large banner saying: “The enemy does not arrive by boat, he arrives by limousine, no to fortress Britain,” counter-protesters from a number of anti-racist groups chanted: “Nazi scum off our streets.”
“We’re opposing them wherever they go on the rampage stoking hatred,” said Lewis Nielsen from Stand Up to Racism, who organised the demonstration, estimated to number about 1,000 people. “We’re saying they can’t march unopposed in London. They’re trying to whip up racism and Islamophobia. We’re going to see off Tommy Robinson.”
He said acolytes of Robinson, whose real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, had been emboldened by Donald Trump, Boris Johnson, and rightwing leaders across Europe.
“They see someone like Johnson in No 10 talking their language, referring to Muslim women as bank robbers and letterboxes and black people as piccaninnies with watermelon smiles. He’s a nasty racist who is playing the Trump card. The far right see him and take confidence from it.”
Before the protests, the Met said anyone breaching the conditions set could be arrested and prosecuted. At 2.30pm, the Met press bureau said the police were not aware of any arrests.
Commander Kyle Gordon, who was leading the operation, said: “I have a full policing operation in place and we will be proactive in ensuring any impact on our communities is minimised, while ensuring anyone who is intent on violence is dealt with swiftly and robustly.”
Robinson was given a nine-month sentence at the Old Bailey last month – of which he will serve almost 10 weeks – after a judge ruled he had been in contempt of court when he livestreamed events outside a courthouse in Leeds where a group of men had been on trial over the sexual exploitation of young girls.