British Brothers League

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Anti-immigration poster, from 1902

The British Brothers' League (BBL) was a British anti-immigration group that attempted to organise along paramilitary lines.

The group was formed in 1902 in east London as a response to waves of immigration that had begun in 1880 and had seen a rapid increase in the numbers of Russian and Polish Jews, as well as others from Eastern Europe, into the area.[1] As a result, Captain William Stanley Shaw formed the BBL to campaign for restricted immigration with the slogan 'England for the English' and soon formed a close alliance with local Conservative MP Major Evans-Gordon.[2] Initially the League was not antisemitic and was more interested in keeping out the poorest immigrants regardless of background, although eventually Jews became the main focus.[3] The League promoted their cause with large meetings, which were stewarded by guards whose role was to eject opponents who entered and raised objections.[4]

The League claimed 45,000 members, although membership was actually fairly irregular as no subscriptions were lifted and anyone who signed the organisation's manifesto was considered a member, with Tory MP Howard Vincent amongst those to do so.[3] As a result of this, attempts to militarise the group were largely a failure, although the movement continued to organise demonstrations against immigrants.[3] The Aliens Act 1905, which restricted immigration, was largely seen as a success for the BBL and, as a result, the movement by and large disappeared.[2] It officially carried on until 1923, albeit on a tiny scale, and was associated with G. K. Chesterton and the distributist movement.[5] Nonetheless they would resurface from time to time as new immigrant scares and shortly before the outbreak of the First World War they were even given a public donation of ten shillings by Arthur Conan Doyle, who had been caught up in a growing public swell of Germanophobia as war loomed.[6]

The League also left behind a legacy of support for far-right groups in east London and this was exploited by the British Union of Fascists, the British League of Ex-Servicemen and Women, the Union Movement and the National Front who gained followings in the same environs.[7]

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  1. ^ Robert Benewick, Political Violence and Public Order, Allan Lane, 1969, p. 25
  2. ^ a b Peter Barberis, John McHugh, Mike Tyldesley, Encyclopedia of British and Irish Political Organizations: Parties, Groups and Movements of the 20th Century, Continuum International Publishing Group, 2000, p. 175
  3. ^ a b c Benewick, Political Violence and Public Order, p. 26
  4. ^ Robert Winder, Bloody Foreigners: The Story of Immigration to Britain, Abacus, 2013, p. 258
  5. ^ Stephen Dorril, Blackshirt: Sir Oswald Mosley & British Fascism, Penguin Books, 2007, p. 350
  6. ^ Winder, Bloody Foreigners, p. 264
  7. ^ Richard Thurlow, Fascism in Britain: A History, 1918-1985, Basil Blackwell, 1987, p. 108