Part 1: Origins, Ideology & Activism
The far-right political party Britain First (BF) was originally formed in 2011 as an activist group campaigning on a white supremacist, anti-immigration and anti-Islam basis. BF registered as a political party in 2014 but, in all elections up to 2017 in which it fielded candidates, it did very poorly with its percentages of votes ranging from 0.14% to 1.2%, and the party was de-registered in November 2017. Despite its poor electoral track record, BF continued to pursue its aims through a period of several low-key years, before re-registering the party in September 2021.
This article examines the history and evolving character of Britain First, its leaders, objectives, and foreign links – and also whether it is likely to succeed electorally and, even if not, whether it presents a threat to representative democracy and public safety.
BF’s Origins and its ‘Great Replacement Theory’ Ideology
BF’s origins and evolution share much in common (including key figures and ideology) with other entities in the contemporary British far-right bloc that emerged from the decline of the British National Party (BNP) from 2010 onwards. BF was founded as, and remains, an unequivocally nationalist/nativist, anti-Islam and anti-immigrant group and is credited with popularizing the slogan “We Want Our Country Back”.
BF’s evolving strategy has been to persuade the British electorate, and especially traditional Conservative Party supporters, other centre-right political supporters, and the disillusioned and disaffected, that Britain’s mainstream political parties have exacerbated the country’s ongoing social and economic problems (e.g. unemployment, benefits system abuses, public services shortfall, crime increase, social disharmony) by allowing too many immigrants, and especially Muslims, into the country. The far right in general asserts that such immigrants are the root cause of these problems, which would decline or disappear if they too disappeared. As a result, BF asserts that not only is the country’s indigenous white Christian population harmed in multiple social, economic and material ways but is also being ‘swamped’ culturally by an ever-growing alien Islamic sub-population. As stated in BF’s current official policies, its solution to this alleged calamity is to strictly control immigration (with particular focus on Muslims and non-whites), to prioritize social benefits and public services for natives over immigrants and their offspring, to deport all illegal immigrants and all foreign criminals, to reject and deport all asylum seekers, to discriminate against non-Christian faiths, and to ‘encourage’ immigrants to leave the country.
In essence, BF’s stated position on “Race, Immigration and Demographics” is a restatement of Jean Raynaud Camus’s Great Replacement Conspiracy Theory that is promulgated enthusiastically by the UK far right generally, as well as in Europe by Viktor Orbán and Fidesz in Hungary, AfD in Germany, PFÖ in Austria, and Marine le Pen in France. Although Camus’s theory was focused on Europe as the supposed victim of non-white, non-European, non-Christian immigrant hordes, others rapidly extended the concept to an alleged combined Islamic and Jewish hegemonic threat (e.g. the assertion that not only were European governments conspiring with the Islamic world to allow in vast numbers of Muslim migrants but also that Islamic and Jewish interests were collaborating in this enterprise). Hungary’s far-right president Viktor Orbán has been blunt in his accusations that the finance expert and philanthropist George Soros (who is Jewish) was instrumental in this supposed conspiracy, an unsubstantiated allegation repeated many times by others and now asserted as an incontrovertible fact in far-right discourse globally.
The theory’s European focus was then extended further by others to encompass the US and other predominantly white populations. The Great Replacement theory, and white Christian supremacy and far-right governance as the essential combined antidote to replacement forces, has entered the political statements and rhetoric of a growing number of US Republican congressional members. The latter now openly espouse a far-right agenda and have succeeded in converting the GOP from a ‘one nation’ conservative party into an unequivocally authoritarian radical-right one (e.g. Paul Gosar in 2018 and in 2021, Matt Gaetz , Steve King (not re-elected 2020), Marjorie Taylor Greene and at least 25 other congressional members who endorse Trump and QAnon conspiracy theories and also promulgate the Great Replacement Conspiracy Theory), and ultra-conservative radical-right commentators, e.g. Ann Coulter, regularly churn out the theory as a ‘fact-based’ opinion. The populist US news channel Fox News has become synonymous with supremacist rhetoric, which its commentators Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham enthusiastically echo and amplify. BF is fully in tune with such US politicians and far-right commentators.
Street Protests, Hate Mongering, Threats, and Intimidation
BF’s policy statements and principles appear relatively articulate, albeit full of unpleasant authoritarian, menacing, and supremacist content, such as “castration” of sexual offenders, challenges of BF’s policies or statements by journalists to be made “a criminal offence (with a guaranteed prison sentence” plus a “lifetime ban”), and curbs on non-Christian religious freedoms. However, its tactics to date have also been relatively unsophisticated and directed primarily at impressing and cultivating sectors of society having limited education and outlook and who therefore may be more amenable to BF’s messaging, and at the disgruntled, disaffected and anxiety-prone who desperately seek salvation from their feelings of hopelessness.
These tactics have centred on noisy street protests and marches, and on blockade/invasion of mosques (at least 14 across England in 2014) and intimidation of worshippers, in 2020 raiding hotels housing migrants, and harassing trial witnesses and their families. For example, in March 2018, BF’s leader Paul Golding and deputy leader Jayda Fransen were convicted of religiously aggravated harassment and abusing people they incorrectly believed were involved in an ongoing rape trial. This included distributing leaflets and videos which endangered the trial against three Muslim men and a teenager. Fransen was sentenced to 36 weeks in prison and Golding to 18 weeks.
Further convictions have occurred. In December 2016, Golding was jailed for 8 weeks for breaking a court order banning him from entering mosques or encouraging others to do so. In July 2019, Britain First was fined over £44,000 by the Electoral Commission for multiple breaches of electoral law in 2016, which related to financial irregularities. Then, in May 2020, Paul Golding was convicted of an offence under the Terrorism Act following a trip to Moscow, namely willful refusal to provide police officers at Heathrow Airport with the PIN codes for his mobile phone and computer and willful refusal to comply with a duty under S7 of the Terrorism Act.
In a high profile civil action in 2021, BF and its leaders Paul Golding and Jayda Fransen agreed to pay substantial libel damages to the Halal Food Authority and two of its employees after distributing videos falsely accusing them of funding terrorism. BF submitted no evidence in court to substantiate its allegations.
In addition to its marches, street-level confrontations, and harassment activities, BF canvasses and campaigns in town centres and shopping precincts to support BF candidates at local elections. However, prior to the 2017 deregistration of the party and the incarceration of its two top officials in 2018, its online and social media campaign was evaluated independently as being highly successful. By October 2017, BF had attracted almost 2 million Facebook followers and in less than four years its posts had received over 6 million comments. The jailing of Golding and Fransen in 2018, coupled in 2019 with Facebook closing their accounts and then completely banning BF, along with BNP, EDL and the National Front, saw a sharp decline in the apparent populist support for them all, implying that social media had been a primary vector in the successful dissemination of far-right views and the gaining of populist support.
In December 2019, BF, which then claimed to have 7,500 members, publicized a claim that more than 5,000 of these had quit the party and joined the mainstream Conservative Party. According to BF, this tactical move was designed to create “a movement of far-right activists within the Conservative Party” who would ensure that Prime Minister Boris Johnson would continue his alleged anti-Muslim agenda. This alluded to his tough stance on Islamist extremists, which the BF infiltrators hoped could be extended to a broader anti-Muslim agenda. The European Research Group of Conservative MPs had already become a recognized repository of radical and far-right sympathies, with alarmed party loyalists (such as former Conservative MP Matthew Parris warning of the malign “insurgency that is the European Research Group” and the party being manipulated to develop harsher policies to “assuage the dark heart of British nativism”). Lord Heseltine, the former Conservative Party MP (1966-2001) and a former cabinet minister and Deputy Prime Minister, expressed his concern about the Party’s shift towards the far-right, in relation to Prime Minister Boris Johnson and far-right influences in the Party, as follows:
A further example of Boris Johnson’s Conservative government’s shift towards the far right came in December 2021, with his reported instruction to the Justice Secretary Dominic Raab to plan for ministerial powers to ignore court rulings that were against, or problematic for, government policy. Such moves would, in effect, remove the essential check by an independent judiciary on potential hegemony by an incumbent government, and would be entirely in keeping with such far-right regimes as the PiS government in Poland and the Orbán regime in Hungary, and the UK far-right bloc’s world-view. The far right’s so-called ‘will of the people’ justification for a subjugated judiciary is often a deliberate inflation of the ‘will of an assertive minority of the people’ that hegemons wish to impose on the majority.
Of course, there is nothing new in far-right activists infiltrating other parties. There is a long history of British far-right supporters fluidly changing allegiance between multiple political parties, as and when they become dissatisfied with their current allegiance or perceive an advantage from a new one. For example, the notorious Tommy Robinson who founded the EDL has, at various times, also been a member of BNP and Pegida UK as well as an adviser to former UKIP leader Gerard Batten whose expressed anti-Muslim views were closely aligned with BF policy. Like Tommy Robinson, Paul Golding was also a former BNP member. The collapse of UKIP during 2017-2019 saw large numbers of members joining the Conservative Party, with others joining EDL, BF and the Brexit Party (now Reform UK).
While in office, President Trump retweeted three inflammatory anti-Muslim videos in a message from Jayda Fransen in 2017, to which Fransen responded (in capitals) “GOD BLESS YOU TRUMP”. Such partisan foreign political support for British far-right propaganda earned Trump a sharp rebuke from Prime Minister Theresa May. However, the incident highlighted how BF is an integral part of a determined international campaign by the radical- and far right to markedly and permanently shift the centre of political gravity within sovereign nations towards the authoritarian right. Former BF leader Jim Dowson, for example, reportedly had extensive contacts with Serbian far-right leaders.
To read part 2 click here.
Dr Alan Waring is a Policy and Practitioner Fellow at CARR and is a retired risk analyst and former Visiting Professor, now Adjunct Professor, at CERIDES (Centre for Risk and Decision Sciences) at the European University Cyprus. He is author of several books on risk, including editing and contributing to the three-volume anthology The New Authoritarianism (2018; 2019; 2021 Ibidem Verlag). See full profile here.
© Alan Waring. Views expressed on this website are individual contributors and do not necessarily reflect that of the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR). We are pleased to share previously unpublished materials with the community under creative commons license 4.0 (Attribution-NoDerivatives).