EDL departures 'a step forward'

Braintree and Witham Times: English Defence League leader Tommy Robinson has announced he is to leave the group. English Defence League leader Tommy Robinson has announced he is to leave the group.

Tommy Robinson has described his departure from the English Defence League (EDL) as a "step forward, not a step back".

Mr Robinson and Kevin Carroll, who set up the controversial group in 2009, announced their withdrawal from the EDL today .

In his first interview since the announcement, Mr Robinson said while he wants to lead a revolution against Islamist ideology, he does not want to lead a revolution against Muslims.

Speaking to Nicky Campbell on BBC Radio 5 live, he said his decision to leave the group was to be true to what he stands for.

"When some moron lifts up his top and he's got the picture of a mosque saying boom and it's all over the national newspapers it's me," he said.

"It's when I pick up my kids from school the parents are looking at me, judging me on that. And that's not what I've stood for and my decision to do this is to be true to what I stand for.

"And whilst I want to lead a revolution against Islamist ideology, I don't want to lead a revolution against Muslims.

"I believe that the revolution needs to come from within the Islamic community and they need to stand up. And I believe this is a step forward not a step back."

Mr Robinson and Mr Carroll announced their departure from the EDL through counter-extremism think tank Quilliam, saying they had decided to leave because they can no longer keep extremist elements at bay.

In a statement issued through Quilliam, Mr Robinson - who earlier tweeted: "hope people listen to my reasons" - said: "I have been considering this move for a long time because I recognise that, though street demonstrations have brought us to this point, they are no longer productive.

"I acknowledge the dangers of far-right extremism and the ongoing need to counter Islamist ideology not with violence but with better, democratic ideas."

The EDL, started in response to a demonstration by Muslim extremists as soldiers marched through Luton, has become infamous for street protests across the country, often resulting in violence as its members clashed with opposing groups such as Unite Against Fascism.

Mr Robinson has hit the headlines repeatedly, after being arrested several times, as well as voicing his controversial views during marches across the country, and on television interviews , including one with the BBC in the wake of the death of Fusilier Lee Rigby in Woolwich earlier this year.

Quilliam, which call s itself the "world's first counter-extremism think tank", said it is helping the former EDL leader, who also goes by the name Stephen Lennon, move away from the group and put his energy into countering extremism.

It called for other members of the EDL to follow in his footsteps, and for Islamist extremist leaders to also leave their respective groups.

Chairman and co-founder Maajid Nawaz said: "As well as being a very positive change for the United Kingdom, this is a very proud moment for Quilliam.

"This represents not a change but a continuation for us, as challenging extremism of all kinds forms the basis of our work.

"We have been able to show that Britain stands together against extremism regardless of political views and hope to continue supporting Tommy and Kevin in their journey to counter Islamism and neo-Nazi extremism."

The think tank is hosting a press conference for Mr Robinson and Mr Carroll at an " undisclosed location" this evening, it said.

Anti-racism campaign group Hope not hate said it was reacting with "cautious optimism" to the news .

Director Nick Lowles said: " EDL supporters have called for mosques to be burned, holy books to be destroyed, Muslims to be deported, they have cost us £10m in policing bills, brought disorder to our streets, and many, many more have been sentenced for acts of violence, gun possession, paedophilia and other crimes.

"To claim they represented working class Britons was laughable: HOPE not hate and others have worked closely with unions, faith groups and the real working class of Britain to oppose the blind hatred and violence promoted via the EDL and its counter-jihadist backers.

"Merely setting up a new party or anti-Muslim organisation will not be enough to convince anti-hate campaigners, and those interested in democratic government, that Lennon and Carroll have truly renounced their ways. We hope they have.

"Well done to Quilliam but many questions still remain."

Sunder Katwala, director of think tank British Future, said: "The EDL has failed, as all far-right groups have failed in Britain, because we don't 'do' that kind of extremism here.

"People in this country are proud of defeating fascism in World War Two and don't want to support another version of it."

He said he hoped t he Quilliam Foundation succeeded in engaging both Mr Robinson and Mr Carroll with the mainstream, which he said mirrored its own director Maajid Nawaz's journey from extremism.

"It can only be good when extremists make that journey, whether from the far right or from militant Islamism," he added.

"There are difficult conversations to be had about immigration and integration in this country. We should have them in a way that promotes understanding and solutions.

"I hope Tommy Robinson completes his journey to democracy and joins this conversation rather than shouting from the sidelines."

Labour MP Keith Vaz, who is chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, said: " Any resignation from the EDL is welcome. Mr Robinson and Mr Carroll have previously engaged, promoted and expounded extreme views.

" Leaving the organisation is an acceptance that their opinions incite hatred and their previous actions have unnecessarily cost the taxpayer thousands of pounds.

" They should encourage others to resign from the organisation as well."

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