The BNP's bid to march in Woolwich shows its desperation

Having once implored BNP members to avoid marches, Griffin is losing a race to the bottom.

A quarter of an hour before the Metropolitan Police announced they were “preventing” the British National Party's (BNP) proposed march through Woolwich, south east London, tomorrow, Nick Griffin bullishly told his Twitter followers that he was “taking over negotiations with them [the police] directly.”

Griffin’s proposed six mile march across south east London from Woolwich to Lewisham is now, instead, a proposed 170 yard shuffle in Westminster, fourteen miles away from the scene of the murder of Drummer Lee Rigby.

This is not what Griffin wanted. BNP insiders say he was forced into a corner during the week. He’s developed a habit for rash statements, no more rash than the initial statement of intent to march in Woolwich. It’s been a long time since the BNP marched anywhere in London. Marching was one of the very things that Griffin implored the membership, when he campaigned for the leadership, to eschew. It was always unsightly and marches always ended in violence.

Griffin however, has little choice. The English Defence League (EDL) are proving more effective in filling the streets with far-right revenge and rage over Drummer Rigby’s awful murder. Griffin had originally hoped that the numerically superior weight of the EDL would support and bulk up the march. When it became apparent that the EDL would not support Griffin’s march, the party’s rumour mill began talking of a secret climb-down. London BNP members, what few there are left of them, secretly called it a “Death march”, while in the north of the country the party kept telling their activists that the march was definitely on and that white Londoners would flock to Woolwich to support the BNP’s call to deport “hate preachers”.

It’s most unlikely, given the tensions in the area, that the BNP was ever going to be allowed to march in Woolwich. Certainly not all of the way to Lewisham. Still, Griffin was made to sweat on the Met’s decision until late on Thursday afternoon. Being moved to Whitehall is a slap in the face for the BNP. The EDL were there themselves only a week before, and even the National Front has managed to march in Woolwich twice in the last ten years.

Some BNP members in London had been suggesting that they actually be able to negotiate a move of the march to the “white corridors” of south east London, places like Eltham in south east London, or either Bromley or Bexley on the Kent borders. Whether Griffin ever put those suggestions to the police, we will probably never know. Once the EDL decided to not join him on his march, he’s had no choice but to sweat it out and present himself as some kind of free speech martyr instead.

Feeling more than a bit rejuvenated, the EDL leadership has been keen to make Griffin suffer for a year of his continual attacks on them. Instead of backing the BNP’s march, EDL wreath-layings will take place around the country. Over 50 are planned at the last count.

Griffin was insisting last night that the march will still go ahead in Woolwich, not in Whitehall. Demanding that people ignore the police, Griffin’s facing another of his world famous self-inflicted great tests of his leadership. Claiming that the police were threatening to arrest him if he pursued his “determination to draw attention to mosque knife terror training”, he was still demanding, begging, for people to now break the law and join him in Woolwich.

Nick Lowles, chief executive of anti-fascist group Hope Not Hate described Griffin as both “desperate and foolish”. “He’s talked himself into this position out of hatred and egotism. He’s losing a race to the bottom.”

Last night, in sheer desperation, Griffin called upon the EDL’s leader Stephen Lennon to join him in getting arrested on Saturday. It’s unlikely that Lennon will bother.

Matthew Collins is a researcher for Hope Not Hate and author of Hate: My Life in the British Far Right (Biteback Books)

BNP leader Nick Griffin arrives to lay flowers close to the scene where Drummer Lee Rigby was killed in Woolwich, London. Photograph: Getty Images.

Matthew Collins is a researcher for Hope Not Hate and author of Hate: My Life in the British Far Right (Biteback Books).

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The 11 things we know after the Brexit plan debate

Labour may just have fallen into a trap. 

On Wednesday, both Labour and Tory MPs filed out of the Commons together to back a motion calling on the Prime Minister to commit to publish the government’s Brexit plan before Article 50 is triggered in March 2017. 

The motion was proposed by Labour, but the government agreed to back it after inserting its own amendment calling on MPs to “respect the wishes of the United Kingdom” and adhere to the original timetable. 

With questions on everything from the customs union to the Northern Irish border, it is clear that the Brexit minister David Davis will have a busy Christmas. Meanwhile, his declared intention to stay schtum about the meat of Brexit negotiations for now means the nation has been hanging off every titbit of news, including a snapped memo reading “have cake and eat it”. 

So, with confusion abounding, here is what we know from the Brexit plan debate: 

1. The government will set out a Brexit plan before triggering Article 50

The Brexit minister David Davis said that Parliament will get to hear the government’s “strategic plans” ahead of triggering Article 50, but that this will not include anything that will “jeopardise our negotiating position”. 

While this is something of a victory for the Remain MPs and the Opposition, the devil is in the detail. For example, this could still mean anything from a white paper to a brief description released days before the March deadline.

2. Parliament will get a say on converting EU law into UK law

Davis repeated that the Great Repeal Bill, which scraps the European Communities Act 1972, will be presented to the Commons during the two-year period following Article 50.

He said: “After that there will be a series of consequential legislative measures, some primary, some secondary, and on every measure the House will have a vote and say.”

In other words, MPs will get to debate how existing EU law is converted to UK law. But, crucially, that isn’t the same as getting to debate the trade negotiations. And the crucial trade-off between access to the single market versus freedom of movement is likely to be decided there. 

3. Parliament is almost sure to get a final vote on the Brexit deal

The European Parliament is expected to vote on the final Brexit deal, which means the government accepts it also needs parliamentary approval. Davis said: “It is inconceivable to me that if the European Parliament has a vote, this House does not.”

Davis also pledged to keep MPs as well-informed as MEPs will be.

However, as shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer pointed out to The New Statesman, this could still leave MPs facing the choice of passing a Brexit deal they disagree with or plunging into a post-EU abyss. 

4. The government still plans to trigger Article 50 in March

With German and French elections planned for 2017, Labour MP Geraint Davies asked if there was any point triggering Article 50 before the autumn. 

But Davis said there were 15 elections scheduled during the negotiation process, so such kind of delay was “simply not possible”. 

5. Themed debates are a clue to Brexit priorities

One way to get a measure of the government’s priorities is the themed debates it is holding on various areas covered by EU law, including two already held on workers’ rights and transport.  

Davis mentioned themed debates as a key way his department would be held to account. 

It's not exactly disclosure, but it is one step better than relying on a camera man papping advisers as they walk into No.10 with their notes on show. 

6. The immigration policy is likely to focus on unskilled migrants

At the Tory party conference, Theresa May hinted at a draconian immigration policy that had little time for “citizens of the world”, while Davis said the “clear message” from the Brexit vote was “control immigration”.

He struck a softer tone in the debate, saying: “Free movement of people cannot continue as it is now, but this will not mean pulling up the drawbridge.”

The government would try to win “the global battle for talent”, he added. If the government intends to stick to its migration target and, as this suggests, will keep the criteria for skilled immigrants flexible, the main target for a clampdown is clearly unskilled labour.  

7. The government is still trying to stay in the customs union

Pressed about the customs union by Anna Soubry, the outspoken Tory backbencher, Davis said the government is looking at “several options”. This includes Norway, which is in the single market but not the customs union, and Switzerland, which is in neither but has a customs agreement. 

(For what it's worth, the EU describes this as "a series of bilateral agreements where Switzerland has agreed to take on certain aspects of EU legislation in exchange for accessing the EU's single market". It also notes that Swiss exports to the EU are focused on a few sectors, like chemicals, machinery and, yes, watches.)

8. The government wants the status quo on security

Davis said that on security and law enforcement “our aim is to preserve the current relationship as best we can”. 

He said there is a “clear mutual interest in continued co-operation” and signalled a willingness for the UK to pitch in to ensure Europe is secure across borders. 

One of the big tests for this commitment will be if the government opts into Europol legislation which comes into force next year.

9. The Chancellor is wooing industries

Robin Walker, the under-secretary for Brexit, said Philip Hammond and Brexit ministers were meeting organisations in the City, and had also met representatives from the aerospace, energy, farming, chemicals, car manufacturing and tourism industries. 

However, Labour has already attacked the government for playing favourites with its secretive Nissan deal. Brexit ministers have a fine line to walk between diplomacy and what looks like a bribe. 

10. Devolved administrations are causing trouble

A meeting with leaders of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland ended badly, with the First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon publicly declaring it “deeply frustrating”. The Scottish government has since ramped up its attempts to block Brexit in the courts. 

Walker took a more conciliatory tone, saying that the PM was “committed to full engagement with the devolved administrations” and said he undertook the task of “listening to the concerns” of their representatives. 

11. Remain MPs may have just voted for a trap

Those MPs backing Remain were divided on whether to back the debate with the government’s amendment, with the Green co-leader Caroline Lucas calling it “the Tories’ trap”.

She argued that it meant signing up to invoking Article 50 by March, and imposing a “tight timetable” and “arbitrary deadline”, all for a vaguely-worded Brexit plan. In the end, Lucas was one of the Remainers who voted against the motion, along with the SNP. 

George agrees – you can read his analysis of the Brexit trap here

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.