FOLKESTONE, United Kingdom – Two very different groups gathered by the Eurostar service station in Folkestone today, the last town trains bound for France pass through on British soil. “United Folkestone” organised a “Stand with the Calais migrants” protest, and in response, Britain First and the English Defence League (EDL) held a counter demo.
The two groups gathered by the services, kept apart by the police, either side of the entrance. United Folkestone were supported by a few Green party members and a large contingent from “Thanet People’s Assembly,” a far-left group started by filmmaker Ken Loach and supported by Owen Jones et al. Bunny LaRoche, the pink haired socialist who became famous for ranting about UKIP on BBC Question time (when her hair was blue), and for following UKIP leader Nigel Farage around South Thanet during his parliamentary bid, appeared to lead the group.
Britain First kicked off proceedings by playing The Land of Hope and Glory over a large speaker and chanting: “Lefty scum, off our streets!” LaRoche responded over a microphone by getting a “No more tunnel deaths!” chant going. The EDL countered her, by chanting: “No more lefty scum!”
The United Folkstone group then set off towards a bridge that crosses the train tracks. The EDL where straight on their heels, followed later a the larger group from Britain First.
The number of police and journalists (some French) present was almost equal to those protesting. The event was an extra burden for Kent Police, who were forced last week to ask other forces for help managing Operation Stack (the management of queuing lorries caused by the migrant crisis).
The protesters came to a bridge where both sides made speeches: “We’re here to protest about the deaths [in the channel tunnel],” said LaRoche. “It’s a terrible situation in Calais, but let’s face it, we’ve probably bombed or starved or taken the resources of most of the countries that these people are coming from, so I think that we owe them actually. We should open our borders, and let them in,” she said. When I asked to speak with her later, she said to me: “go f**k yourself.”
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The leader of United Folkestone, a local woman called Bridget Chapman, told the crowd they were there for three reasons. To “stand with the migrants in Calais,” to “send a message” to the “disgusting and irresponsible” press, and to “question Eurotunnel about their health and safety record” following the deaths of several migrants trying to board moving freight trains.
“For too long a very silent majority are not having their voices heard,” she said. “The right-wing media are amplifying the voices of a very small minority who are against immigration. But there are many of us who are pro-immigration, who see it as a benefit, and want to stand with our fellow human beings. We have a moral responsibility to [the migrants],” she told those on the bridge.
Paul Goulding, the leader of Britain First, did not give a speech, but he told me: “We’re here for two reasons today. One: to oppose the continued mass immigration into out country, specifically the Calais migrant crisis. Secondly: to oppose this small gaggle of left-wing extremists, because they’re traitors to their county and they want to dismantle our borders and allow an endless torrent of migrants into our country.”
When I asked if their presence was similar to anti-fascist counter demos at his own protests, he replied: “No, this isn’t tit for tat,” adding: “We’re just here to show these people across the street, if they come out on the streets as traitors to their country, we will oppose them.
The EDL were somewhat quieter, and fewer in number. The two groups never mixed, and there was a noticeable hostility between them. I asked Goulding why his organisation and the EDL were protesting side by side. He said:
“This is a random occurrence and we despise the EDL, and especially that mob over there. Most of them have got masks on, and most that we’ve seen have been drinking alcohol. It’s not how you conduct yourself if you’re a true English gentlemen and patriot… Alcohol is banned on our protests, we’ve got a strict code of conduct: we don’t have anything to do with drinking or masks or hooligan behaviour.”
Seconds after I finished talking to him a man broke off from the front of the Britain First line and ran towards the Unite Folkestone protest shouting and swinging his arms. Police drew their batons and pushed him back. He was not arrested, but officers were filming the entire event.
Several members of the EDL were indeed drinking. I asked the regional organiser of the EDL in Kent what they thought of Britain First, she said: “Well, I could say quite a lot actually. But I’m not going to because we’re here for a demonstration and we don’t want to get sidetracked.”
When the EDL gave their speech on the bridge it was drowned out by Britain First, who turned up their music. I was able to obtain a transcript, however. They spoke of the strain immigration puts on public service during times of austerity. “We are being flooded by uncontrolled immigration and the government has released a booklet called ‘coming from abroad and getting benefits,’” they planned to say.