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Far-right politics in the United Kingdom

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Far-right politics in the United Kingdom is a recurring phenomenon in the United Kingdom since the early 20th century, with the formation of Nazi, fascist and antisemitic movements. One of the earliest examples of Fascism in the UK can be found as early as 1923 with the formation of British Fascisti by Rotha Lintorn-Orman.[1][2] It went on to acquire more explicitly racial connotations, being dominated in the 1960s and 1970s by self-proclaimed white nationalist organisations that opposed non-white and Asian immigration. The idea stems from belief of white supremacy, the belief that white people are superior to all other races and should therefore dominate society.[3] Examples of such groups in the UK are the National Front (NF), the British Movement (BM) and British National Party (BNP), or the British Union of Fascists (BUF). Since the 1980s, the term has mainly been used to describe those groups, such as the English Defence League, who express the wish to preserve what they perceive to be British culture, and those who campaign against the presence of non-indigenous ethnic minorities.

The NF and the BNP have been strongly opposed to non-white immigration. They have encouraged the repatriation of ethnic minorities: the NF favours compulsory repatriation, while the BNP favours voluntary repatriation. The BNP have had a number of local councillors in some inner-city areas of East London, and towns in Yorkshire and Lancashire, such as Burnley and Keighley. East London has been the bedrock of far-right support in the UK since the 1930s, whereas BNP success in the north of England was a newer phenomenon. The only other part of the country to provide any significant level of support for such views is the West Midlands.

However, in recent decades, the government have seen the far right to be a greater threat. The threat posed by the far-right has evolved and continues to grow.[4] Prior 2014, far-right activity was confined to a small, established group that promoted anti-immigration and white supremacist views. These groups tended to present a low risk to national security but in recent years multiple attacks have been carried out by people who hold such views. An official report, published in 2019, highlighted that the UK had the highest number of far-right terrorist attacks and plots in Europe.[4][5] The threat by the extreme right has moved from being a political movement to being a greater threat to national security. On 31 March 2022, of the 233 prisoners in custody for terrorism-connected offences, 57 were categorised as extreme-right.[6] This is much higher than it was a decade ago and is on an upward trend.

Key views of various far-right groups include white supremacy, cultural nationalism, and the Identitarian Movement. Far-right groups and individuals disproportionately target ethnic minority and religious groups, LGBT+ groups, politicians, and public figures.[5]


A flowchart showing the history of the early British fascist movement

1930s to 1960s[edit]

British Union of Fascists[edit]

The British far right rose out of the fascist movement. In 1932, Oswald Mosley founded the British Union of Fascists, which was banned during World War II. Following the ban, Mosley, who held traditional British Values, founded the Union Movement. It was following this that far-right groups became more prevalent.[1][7] Mosley argued that fascism was the only possible way in which we were able to save Britain from socio-economic ruin and a communist takeover.[8]

During the 1950s and 60s, the landscape of ERW groups continued to evolve with the emergence of organisations such as the League of Empire Loyalists (LEL) and the National Front (NF). The rise of ERW ideologies during this period can be attributed, in part, to the dismantling of the British Empire, due to a sense of national decline.[1]

League of Empire Loyalists[edit]

Founded in 1954 by A. K. Chesterton, the League of Empire Loyalists became the main British far right group at the time. The League of Empire Loyalists believed that the British empire brought around a sense of "pride and joy" and so aimed to "force upon existing parties favourable to national and imperial survival," with the hope to see a return of the "British world… at home and abroad."[1] The LEL was a pressure group rather than a political party, and did not contest elections. Most of its members were part of the Conservative Party, and they were known for politically embarrassing stunts at party conferences. Additionally, throughout its time, LEL was involved in many non-violent protests, which involved heckling speakers.[1][9] Furthermore, this group held the belief that Jews were behind the dismantling of the British empire. Its more extreme elements wanted to make the group more political, which led to a number of splinter groups forming, including the White Defence League and the National Labour Party. These both stood in local elections in 1958, and merged in 1960 to form the British National Party (BNP).

With the decline of the British Empire becoming inevitable, British far-right parties turned their attention to internal matters. The 1950s had seen an increase in immigration to the UK from its former colonies, particularly India, Pakistan, the Caribbean and Uganda. Led by John Bean and Andrew Fountaine, the BNP opposed the admittance of these people to the UK. A number of its rallies, such as one in 1962 in Trafalgar Square, London, ended in race riots. After a few early successes, the party got into difficulties and was destroyed by internal arguments. In 1967 it joined forces with John Tyndall and the remnants of Chesterton's League of Empire Loyalists to form the National Front (NF).

1970s to 1990s[edit]

National Front[edit]

Britain's largest far right party post-war was the National Front. The NF popularity was boosted by the infamous Rivers of Blood speech given by Enoch Powell in 1968.[10][11] The NF opposed the mass-migration of non-white migrants throughout the 70s and was able to boost its popularity through the opposition to the immigration rules introduced by Edward Heath, leader of the Conservative and Unionist Party and prime minister, which saw a boost to their membership, to an estimated 17,500 by 1972.[12] Throughout the seventies, the NF saw a rise in popularity and influence, mainly at a local level; for example, in the 1973 West Bromwich by-election the NF won 16 per cent.[13] Moreover, they polled 44% in a local election in Deptford, London[citation needed], and finished third in three by-elections, although these results were atypical of the country as a whole. The party supported extreme loyalism in Northern Ireland, and attracted Conservative Party members who had become disillusioned after Harold Macmillan had recognised the right to independence of the African colonies, and had criticised Apartheid in South Africa.[14] During the 1970s, the NF's rallies became a regular feature of British politics. Election results remained strong in a few working class urban areas, with a number of local council seats won, but the party never came anywhere near winning representation in parliament. Throughout its active years, the NF were involved in several violent incidences, notably the 1974 Red Lion Square disorders,[15] over the amnesty of illegal immigrants and the 1977 ‘Battle of Lewisham', which aimed to intimidate local minority residents.[16] However, by the late 90s, its popularity began to decline following the emergence of the [British National Party] (BNP), receiving just 2,716 votes in the 1997 General Election.[17]

The smaller far right groups maintained anti-immigration policies, but there was a move towards a more inclusionist vision of the UK, and a focus on opposing what became the European Union. The NF began to support non-white radicals such as Louis Farrakhan. This led to the splintering of the various groups, with radical political soldiers such as a young Nick Griffin forming the Third Way group, and traditionalists creating the Flag Group.

Nick Griffin led the BNP from 1999 to 2014.

British National Party[edit]

John Tyndall formed the New National Front in 1980, and changed its name to the British National Party (BNP) in 1982. They, alongside the Conservative Monday Club, campaigned against the increasing integration of the UK into the European Union. However, with Thatcher in her prime and Tyndall's reputation of a 'brutal, street fighting background' and his admiration for Hitler and the Nazis prevented the party from gaining any respectability.

There was some success in 1993, BNP scored its first electoral success when Derek Beackon won a council vote seat on the Isle of Dogs with 34 per cent vote.[13] They developed a policy of eschewing the traditional far right methods of extra-parliamentary movements, and concentrated instead on the ballot box. Nick Griffin replaced Tyndall as BNP leader in 1999 and introduced several policies to make the party more electable. Repatriation of ethnic minorities was made voluntary and several other policies were moderated.


The National Front continued to decline, whilst Nick Griffin and the BNP grew in popularity and was one of the most successful and fastest-growing far-right parties in the twenty-first century.[18] It promoted ethnic nationalism and believed that "being British is more than merely a passport," as such, it is noted by some, such as Matthew Goodwin, that this is what separates the BNP from other parties in British politics.[19] However, throughout the twentieth and twenty-first century the BNP were able to established itself as an alternative for working-class voters who were angry at the "political establishment" for its ignorance towards their concerns over immigration, which allowed the BNP to have representation at a local council level throughout the mid-2000s.[18][20] A damaging BBC documentary led to Griffin being charged with incitement to racial hatred (although he was acquitted).[21] The 2006 local elections brought the BNP the most successful results of any far right party in British history. They gained 33 council seats, the second highest gain of any party at the elections; in Barking and Dagenham, they gained 12 councillor seats. Further success led to the party gaining local councillors in the 2002 , 2003 , 2004, 2006, 2007 and 2008 Local Elections.

In the 2008 local elections, the party won a record 100 councillor seats, and a seat on the Greater London Assembly, which would prove the party's high water mark. At the June 2009 European Parliament Election, the BNP gained two Members of the European Parliament for Yorkshire and the Humber and North West England. In October 2009, BNP leader Nick Griffin was allowed on the BBC topical debate show Question Time. His appearance caused much controversy and the show was watched by over 8 million people.


The 2010s saw the rise of the English Defence League (EDL), National Action (NA) and Britain First (BF). At the beginning of this decade, it was determined that domestic terrorism, such as ERW terrorism, was not a threat to the UK.[5] Throughout the 2010s, there was a continuing trend of the far-right being more intimidating towards minority groups.[22]

At the 2010 general election, the BNP fielded 338 candidates across England, Scotland and Wales and won 563,743 votes (1.9% of total) but no seats. Nick Griffin subsequently said he would resign as BNP leader in 2013, and was eventually expelled from the party in 2014 as the BNP fell into obscurity. The National Front fielded 17 candidates at the 2010 Election and received 10,784 votes.[citation needed]

English Defence League[edit]

The anti-Islamist group, the English Defence League, oversaw early "rapid and unprecedented" growth,[23] appealing to nationalist sentiments on a cultural rather than explicitly racial basis. Originally formed in Luton in 2009, it protests against what it considers the Islamification of Britain.[24] Its ideology is driven by opposition to Islam, which it deems a "threat" as it poses to "our way of life, our customs, and our rule of law."[23] This opposition led the EDL to organise demonstrations in towns and cities across England, the largest of which occurred in Luton in February 2011.[25]

UK Independence Party[edit]

Soon after, right-wing populist party UK Independence Party (UKIP) started to gain popularity. Although labelled as far-right by some political observers,[26] UKIP was not universally considered so.[27][28] UKIP and the EDL benefited over this period from a rightward shift in the electorate,[29] while former far-right parties such as the BNP and National Front became fringe groups and wield very little media attention or power.[citation needed]

English Democrats[edit]

In 2010, Robin Tilbrook, the chairman of the English nationalist party the English Democrats, met with Sergey Yerzunov, a member of the executive committee of the Russian nationalist group Russky Obraz.[30] Shortly afterwards, Obraz announced that they were in alliance with the English Democrats.[31] Other members of this alliance include Serbian Obraz, 1389 Movement, Golden Dawn, Danes' Party, Slovenska Pospolitost, Workers' Party and Noua Dreaptă. Since 2010, a number of former members of the BNP have joined the English Democrats, with the party chairman quoted as saying, "They will help us become an electorally credible party."[32] In an April 2013 interview, Tilbrook said that about 200–300 out of the party's membership of 3,000 were former BNP members. He said it was "perfectly fair" that such people would "change their minds" and join a "moderate, sensible English nationalist party".[33]

Britain First[edit]

In 2011, the far-right, anti-Islam, and fascist party Britain First and shared views similar to that of the EDL.[23] This movement was formed by former members of the BNP[34] and campaigns primarily against immigration, multiculturalism and what it sees as the Islamisation of the United Kingdom, and aims to protect with the intention of "protecting British and Christian morality."[23] The group is inspired by Ulster loyalism and has a vigilante wing called the "Britain First Defence Force". Throughout its time, BF was largely digital. In response to videos of young Muslims intimidating women, gay men and those drinking alcohol, BF became more confrontational in its resistance against Muslims and Islam.[23] Additionally, It attracted attention by taking direct action such as protests outside homes of alleged Islamists, and what it describes as "Christian patrols" and "invasions" of British mosques,[34][35] and has been noted for its online activism.[36] Its leader Paul Golding stood as a candidate in the 2016 London mayoral election, receiving 31,372 or 1.2% of the vote, coming eighth of twelve candidates.[37] Golding was jailed for eight weeks in December 2016 for breaking a court order banning him from entering mosques or encouraging others to do so.[38] In 2018, Golding was convinced and imprisoned again, this time for harassment.[39]

British Democratic Party[edit]

In February 2013, the British Democratic Party was launched by former Member of the European Parliament (MEP) and National Front chairman Andrew Brons, who resigned from the BNP in October 2012 after narrowly failing in his campaign to unseat Nick Griffin as leader of the BNP in 2011.[40] Brons remains the party's inaugural president, and the chairman is James Lewthwaite.[41] The BDP has attracted former members of the British National Party (BNP), Democratic Nationalists, Freedom Party, UK Independence Party (UKIP),[42][40] For Britain Movement, and Civil Liberty, including long-standing far-right political leader John Bean. Nick Lowles of Hope not Hate believed the party would be a serious threat to the BNP, commenting "The BDP brings together all of the hardcore Holocaust deniers and racists that have walked away from the BNP over the last two to three years, plus those previously, who could not stomach the party's image changes".[43] And in 2022 the BDP experienced a sharp increase in membership, with several nationalist local councillors and prominent far-right activists like Brian Parker and Derek Beackon joining the party.[44][45] They are currently the only far-right British political party to have any elected representation, with 3 local councillors.[46][47][48]

National Action[edit]

Founded in 2013 by Christopher Lythgoe, NA is the first ER to be banned by the UK government. NA is described as a Neo-Nazi organisation that stirs up "hatred, glorifies violence and promotes vile ideology."[49] A turning point in ERW ideology in the UK. It focused mainly on attracting young people through targeted propaganda.[49] In 2016, 22 members were arrested and charged for being members.[50] Though, in the years following many figures linked to this group were arrested on suspicion of plots to commit extremist acts. A couple of examples include the plot to kill Rosie Cooper MP, in a bid to "replicate" that of Jo Cox [51] and the possession of terrorist manifestos.[52]

In June 2016, Jo Cox was murdered by a far-right extremist after being stoked by the campaigns surrounding the Brexit referendum.[53] Scholars have suggested that far-right attitudes contributed to and were normalised by the result of the Brexit referendum.[54]

In June 2017, Darren Osbourne carried out a terrorist attack on Muslim worshippers at Finsbury Park mosque, killing 1 and injuring 12.[citation needed] Ethan Stables was committed to planning a terrorist attack on a Gay Pride event.[citation needed] Jack Renshaw was charged with preparing an attack on Labour MP Rosie Cooper.[citation needed]

In October 2017, former UKIP leadership candidate and anti-Islam activist Anne Marie Waters launched the For Britain Movement.[55][56][57] Unlike most far-right parties that came before them, For Britain were zionist, opposed to antisemitism, and held more moderate views on social issues like LGBT rights. Former English Defence League leader Tommy Robinson and singer-songwriter Morrissey announced their support for the party,[58] and fellow far-right and counter-jihad political party Liberty GB merged with For Britain.[59] The party received support from several former members of far-right groups like the British National Party, Generation Identity, and the neo-Nazi terrorist organisation National Action. For Britain had some limited success in local council elections, but failed to make any significant breakthroughs in the parliamentary by-elections they contested.[60] In July 2022, Waters announced on the party's website that the party was ceasing all operations with immediate effect,[61] with their elected councillors subsequently joining the British Democrats. In April 2023, it was announced that she was rejoining UKIP as the "Justice spokes[person]",[62] and the following month it was announced that she was selected as the UKIP candidate for Hartlepool for the general election.[63]

In March 2018 Mark Rowley, the outgoing head of UK counter-terror policing, revealed that four far-right terror plots had been foiled since the Westminster attack in March 2017.[64]

In November 2018 three people, Adam Thomas, Claudia Patatas and Daniel Bogunovic, were convicted of being members of the proscribed terrorist organisation, National Action, after a seven-week trial at the Crown Court in Birmingham. Thomas and Patatas have a child whom they named Adolf.[65][66]

From 2018 to 2019, under the leadership of Gerard Batten, UKIP was widely described as moving into far-right territory, at which point many longstanding members – including former leaders Nigel Farage and Paul Nuttall – left. As the new permanent leader, Batten focused the party more on opposing Islam and sought closer relations with the far-right activist Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, otherwise Tommy Robinson, and his followers.[67] Batten would leave the leadership of UKIP in 2019.

Since 2019 the former director of publicity of the BNP, neo-Nazi[68] and antisemitic conspiracy theorist[69][70] Mark Collett has led a new far-right party called Patriotic Alternative.

In late 2020, The British Hand was founded by a 15 year old teenager. Since then the group have been at the root of far-right online propaganda, especially on the social media app Telegram. This led Hope not Hate to start an undercover investigation into the group and write an article exposing them.[71]

In February 2023, fifteen people were arrested following violent clashes between police and far-right activists who were protesting outside a Merseyside hotel housing asylum seekers.[72]

Far-right terrorism[edit]

Far-right extremism has maintained a presence in the United Kingdom since the 1920s but has increasingly been perceived as a significant threat in more recent decades. Throughout the 2010's, far-right groups became more violent and have engaged in incidents that are considered a threat to the wider society.[22]


The Terrorism Act 2000 states that terrorism is "… the use or threat of action… designed to influence the government or to intimidate the public or a section of the public… and is made to advance political, religious, racial, or ideological cause…" This act must "… involve serious violence against a person, damage to property, endangers life, creates a risk to health, and is designed to interfere with an electronic system."[73] The Terrorism Act does not set out a strict definition of far-right terrorism.

However, Protect UK, a national counter-terrorism security office, merely states that this type of violence involves "those involved in ERW activity use violence in furtherance of their ideology" and "represent a cohesive body, rather than a fragmented movement made up of groups and individuals with a range of ideologies."[74]


In recent years, The CONTEST plan highlights that there is a "growing threat" from ERW terrorism and that these groups intend to "exploit any anxieties around globalisation, conflict and migration," so it aims to prevent those who held such views from becoming more radical.[75][76] This is a departure in its original intentions, which was the counter Islamic Extremism. However, as this threat has developed, the government have consistently echoed the need for countering far-right extremism, including in recent weeks by prime minister Rishi Sunak. In which he stated that these forms of extremism were "two sides of the same coin".[77]

The Four P's[edit]

The CONTEST strategy consists of the Four P's, Protect, Prevent, Prepare and Pursue.

  • Protect aims to strengthen the protection against a terrorist attack.[78]
  • Prepare aims to minimise the impact of an attack and reduce the likelihood of further attacks.[78]
  • Prevent aims to stop people from becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism,[78] through supporting rehabilitation and disengagement of those already involved in terrorism.[78]
  • Pursue aims to reduce the threat to the UK and UK interests through the detection and investigation of terrorist networks and the disruption of their activities.

The CONTEST strategy is important as it involves reducing the physical risk to people. Since 2017, 32 terrorist plots have been foiled, 12 of these were triggered by far-right terrorist ideology.[79] This threat has been considered "small but fast growing."[80] In the year ending March 2022, 6,406 referrals were made to prevent.[78] This early intervention allows for the de-radicalisation of suspects and the protection of the wider public, reducing the vulnerability of public venues, transport and infrastructure.


Critics state that CONTEST needs "urgent work" as engagement with prevent is voluntary. For example, the attacker of Sir David Amess, was referred to prevent but is said to have very little engagement with the programme.[81] Critics highlight that prevent is "incapable of achieving its goal" and stigmatises Muslim communities.[82]

Election results[edit]

Year Candidate(s) Votes % Rank
1959 National Labour Party (UK, 1957) 1,685 0.0 14th
Total 1,685 0.0 Lost
1964 British National Party (1960) 3,410 0.0 11th
National Democratic Party (UK, 1966) 349 0.0
Patriotic Party (UK) 1,108 0.0 15th
Total 4,867 0.0 Lost
1966 British National Party (1960) 5,182 0.0 11th
National Democratic Party (UK, 1966) 769 0.0
Patriotic Party (UK) 126 0.0
Total 6,077 0.0 Lost
1970 National Front (UK) 11,449 0.0 13th
National Democratic Party (UK, 1966) 14,276 0.0 12th
Total 25,725 0.0 Lost
1974 National Front (UK) 76,865 0.2 9th
National Democratic Party (UK, 1966) 1,161 0.0 24
Total 78,026 0.2 Lost
1974 National Front (UK) 113,843 0.4 8th
Total 113,843 0.4 Lost
1979 National Front (UK) 191,719 0.6 6th
Total 191,719 0.6 Lost
1983 National Front (UK) 27,065 0.1 12th
British National Party 14,621 0.0 9th
Total 41,686 0.1 Lost
1987 British National Party 553 0.0 22
Total 553 0.0 Lost
1992 British National Party 7,631 0.1 16th
National Front (UK) 4,816 0.1 19th
Total 12,447 0.2 Lost
1997 British National Party 35,832 0.1 16th
National Front (UK) 2,716 0.0 28th
Total 38,548 0.1 Lost
2001 British National Party 47,129 0.2 15th
National Front (UK) 2,484 0.0 29th
Total 49,613 0.2 Lost
2005 British National Party 192,745 0.7 8th
National Front (UK) 8,079 0.0 23rd
Total 200,824 0.7 Lost
2010 British National Party 564,331 1.9 5th
National Front (UK) 10,784 0.0 21st
Total 575,115 1.9 Lost
2015 British National Party 1,667 0.0 32nd
National Front (UK) 1,114 0.0 37th
British Democratic Party (2013) 210 0.0 58th
Total 2,991 0.0 Lost
2017 British National Party 4,580 0.0 17th
Total 4,580 0.0 Lost
2019 British National Party 510 0.0 47th
Total 510 0.0 Lost

See also[edit]


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