The March for England (MfE), an annual event with strong ties to the far-right English Defence League, took place on Sunday in Brighton. The march, campaigning for a national bank holiday on St George’s day, was met by counter-protesters who outnumbered those in the initial march.
According to the MfE website the organisers claim it is a “family event” that welcomes all “regardless of colour, culture or religion or non religion”, but the demographic of the march appeared to contradict that statement featuring exclusively white and adult male marchers.
One MfE participant said she was there to defend “our heritage” and spoke specifically about how she felt that “no more mosques should be built. We wouldn’t be allowed to build a church in their country”.
Another MfE participant felt they were wrongly labelled as “fascists”, and attacked anti-fascist organisation Unite Against Fascism as “the real fascists”.
The chants from the MfE were noticeably tamer than those of last year, which reportedly included graphic homophobic language.
One counter-protester put that down to “PR – those feelings are still very much a part of this event”.
However chants aimed at counter-protesters such as “you’re not English any more” and “no surrender to the student scum” were chanted.
Early estimates put the number of March for England demonstrators at not much more than 100, with the number of counter-demonstrators easily outnumbering them with up to 1000 people on the streets.
Both sets of protesters were kept completely apart for the entirety of the march, with the large police presence containing the March for England contingent at all times.
However, clashes did take place, and missiles were thrown in both directions.
One woman talked of how she had to seek refuge in a shop to avoid missiles coming from the MfE congregation. The numerous police presence meant that the march passed with very limited physical contact between groups, though some people were not altogether happy with the police’s conduct.
One 73-year old counter protester, called Anna, said: “I can’t believe so much taxpayers’ money was being spent on this level of policing. I can’t see how it can be justified, I thought we were supposed to be in a period of austerity”.
And on a number of occasions there were reports of police heavy-handedness.
One second year Sussex student who was engaged in a non-violent blockade of the road in front of the MfE told of how he was beaten with a baton and pepper sprayed for refusing to move.
He said the police had behaved in an “incredibly violent” way, and said “it’s amazing the extremes the police will go to in order to facilitate this march; we didn’t attack the police, the police attacked us”.
Another student said she was in “real pain” after being stood on by one of the many police horses.
The march was redirected from its original route, and ended up with the entirety of those on the March for England being kettled for a long period of time in Victoria Gardens before being escorted en masse back to the train station, and immediately on to buses.
The vast majority of those in the March for England came from places other than Brighton, and a question that remains about the march is why this city continues to be chosen as the location.
Caroline Lucas, MP for Brighton Pavilion, was in attendance as part of the crowd protesting against the march and said she felt the EDL and other far right organisations target Brighton “precisely because” it is a place that has a history of fighting prejudice and welcoming people from diverse backgrounds.
One counter-protester agreed and said that those on the march saw Brighton as a “muslim-loving poof’s paradise.”
They added that the march was cynically staged here to antagonise Brighton and drill up as much publicity as possible by provoking a response from Brighton’s famously bohemian population.
Ben, a counter-protester and student at Sussex speaking on Monday said the day went “as well as it could’ve possibly gone” and that “Brighton successfully showed that racism is not welcome here”.
However, as it was a day when far right French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen received record support in the French election, he added “now is not a time to underestimate the rise of nationalist extremism”.