Tommy Robinson: enemy of the British state?


On August 1, Tommy Robinson, whose real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, was released on bail after winning an appeal against a contempt of court finding.  Robinson describes himself as “a working class man from Luton”, At the Court of Appeal, Lord Chief Justice Lord Burnett ruled the case be reheard as there had been technical flaws by the judge who jailed him.

This is an update on my previous blog about Tommy Robinson, in which I argued that Robinson has achieved notoriety due to repeated failures by successive British governments to effectively confront radical Islam.

The point may be simply made: for decades, the state-the police, social services, elected officials, educators, local and central government-failed to enforce British law.  The resulting sense of outrage, notably among the white British working class, provided Robinson with the oxygen to present himself as a champion of the oppressed.

One of the reasons why his activities elicit so much hostility is that the idea of the white working class as victims has become a curiosity: post-modern politics has tended to define minorities as victims-not foxhunters, of course but  women(50% of humanity), and people of “colour”(90% of humanity). Robinson remains the product of poor official thinking.

What follows is a sketch of Robinson’s biography; a factual account of the Lord Chief Justice’ ruling; the reactions of Robinson’s followers, and of his critics, and my summary assessment. 

Tommy Robinson

Robinson was born in 1982, and as a young man worked as a brick-layer. At the age of 20, he was politicised when, in 2009, a dozen or so Muslim radicals hurled insults at the homecoming parade of the Royal Anglian Regiment parade in Luton.  He set up the English Defence League (EDL) – an organisation whose purpose was to counter the threat of Islamic extremism.  Within a few short years, Luton had become a heavily Muslim town, and Robinson was definitely not the only person to be radicalized.

He married in 2011, and is the father of three children. The EDL organized street marches, and regularly clashed with far-left demonstrators. Street fights attracted extremist elements to the EDL, and Robinson left in 2013. By this time, he had switched his attention to Muslim-dominant rape gangs, active across the length and breadth of the UK, and whose activities had been revealed by Andrew Norfolk in The Times in January 2011.

In 2015, he joined demonstrations with the German anti-immigration group Pegida, Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West, and announced the founding of the British chapter. In 2017, he started contributing to the Canadian-based political commentary site The Rebel Media.

Facts in the run-up to Lord Chief Justice Burnet’s ruling

On 8 May 2017, during the course of a rape trial at Canterbury Crown Court involving four defendants, Robinson attempted to produce an online broadcast entitled “Tommy Robinson in Canterbury exposing Muslim child rapists”. But the judge made arrangements for the defendants and jurors to leave court by a back door. Robinson meanwhile addressed his many online followers about “Muslim peadophiles”, and was eventually summoned by the judge and charged with contempt of court. The judge found that he had committed “criminal contempt”, and was given a suspended sentence of three months for a period of 18 months. As Judge Norton told him,

“[Y]ou should be under no illusions that if you commit any further offence of any kind, and that would include, I would have thought, a further contempt of court by similar actions, then that sentence of three months would be activated, and that would be on top of anything else that you were given by any other court.”

On 25 May 2018, Robinson attended Leeds Crown Court, and live-streamed a Facebook video in which, citing articles from the BBC webdsite and The Guardian,  he read out the names, ethnicity and religion of the defendants. Judge Marson judged this activity as in breach of the reporting restriction on the trial, and sentenced him for contempt of court. Marson committed Robinson to a prison sentence of 13 months-10 months was for the new offence, and three months activated for the Canterbury offence. The process was quick – 5 hours from arrest to imprisonment.

In his ruling of August 1,  Lord Chief Justice Lord Burnett stated that the case be re-heard as there had been technical flaws by the judge who jailed him. are some of the main points from the judgement:

“We recognise that the judge was placed in an invidious position because he was concerned about the integrity of the trial which was almost at its end. The three trials of which this was then second were exceptionally difficult and sensitive. Having decided to suspend the deliberations of the jury, it is understandable that he may have felt under some pressure to resolve the issue of the appellant’s contempt expeditiously. However, once it had become apparent that the appellant was cooperating in removing the video from the internet there was no reason why the jury could not have been permitted ton resume their deliberations. If there was any doubt about the intentions of the appellant, the judge could have sought an undertaking from or ordered, the appellant not to comment further on the trial or approach the court until the trial (or trials) had concluded.”

“We are satisfied that the finding of contempt made in Leeds following a fundamentally flawed process, in what we recognise were difficult and unusual circumstances, cannot stand.”

“In our judgment the failure to follow the requirements of Part 48 of the Rules was much more than a technical failure. In contempt proceedings, touching as they do on the liberty of the subject, there is a need for the contempt in question to be identified with precision and the conduct of the alleged contemnor identified with sufficient particularity to enable him, with the assistance of legal advice, to respond to what is a criminal charge, in all but name. In this case there was no clarity at all about what the appellant was admitting and for what parts of his broadcast he was considered by the judge to be guilty of contempt of court for breach of the section 4(2) order.”

Finally, the ruling confirmed that Robinson remains convicted of contempt in relation to his behaviour at Canterbury, and that the Leeds case should be “re-heard before a different soon as reasonably possible”.

In essence, the Lord Chief Justice ruled that correct procedures had not been followed; that Robinson was not told what crime he had committed; that after Robinson had removed the offending video from Facebook on the court’s order, the judge should have adjourned the matter to give Robinson longer to prepare a defence. Robinson has been released on bail, and faces re-trial. The trial has been announced for September 4, in the Old Bailey.


In my previous blog on Robinson, I argued that Judge Marson made Robinson into a global hero-a  Robin Hood standing up for the rights of the oppressed against the “Normans”, ie the alien establishment. Following his incarceration, demonstraters descended in their thousands on Downing Street, and a petition for his release gathered over half a million signatures. Posted on, the document was translated into French, Spanish, German , Italian, Polish, Czech and Russian.

I also argued that the British government has to get a grip on the situation: successive governments have alienated the white working class.  There are a legion of examples to draw on:

This is all the more serious in  the light of the fact that Robinson has access to a very wide followership. The one hour and a half video he made outside Leeds Crown Court was watched 250,000 times within hours of being posted as a Facebook Live. His Facebook account holds 788,000 followers, and he boasted that within 6 weeks of beginning work with The Rebel,his videos had been visited 5.9 million times. As Haras Rafiq, a counter-extremist specialist and leader of the Quilliam Foundation, has been reported as pointing out, labelling Robinson as “far right” is misleading: Robinson is drawing support from people in the UK who “aren’t Nazis and have voted Labour all their lives”.

It should be noted that Labour was traditionally a patriotic party-not necessarily flag-waving, but the leaders realized that the working-class was patriotic. Labour was also internationalist, in favour of international co-operation in order to preserve the peace, where possible, promote wealth creation, and in favour of national self-determination. Indeed, working people in the UK, having rejected the revolution promoted by the Chartist movement of the 1840s, saw the achievement of government office through the ballot-box as the best way to improve the lot of working people.  The parliamentary rules, that a government was answerable to the electorate at regular intervals, were part of the culture.

That culture has been under serious attack, and not by the likes of Tommy Robinson, but by successive UK governments of all stripes. An undetermined volume of laws in the UK-9% say Remainers; 70% and upwards say Leavers- stem from Brussels; since the 1960s, social liberal policies have been implemented, often without the backing of voters; the educational establishments for primary, secondary and university are determinedly “progressive”; the media regularly categorise anyone with vaguely different views to their own as “racist”, “bigoted”, “fascist”-whatever epithet strikes their fancy.

Not surprisingly, swathes of the British public do not feel represented by the existing political parties, or by the media: a brief examination of opinion polls on voting intentions show quite clearly that swing voters represent a sizeable minority of the public. In the 1960s, about 13% of voters could be described as swingers, people who switched their vote to other parties; now the figure is around 40%.

That public is accessible through social media-a genre at which Robinson is particularly adept. Here is a partial list of affirmations which Robinson, and his supporters, make on social media: he, Robinson, is the victim of a vendetta by the mainstream media, and the British government; he was locked up to stop him speaking about the threat of Islam; the British state has for years failed to act in protection of under-age girls against the activities of majority Muslim rape gangs; he is a political prisoner condemned by a kangaroo court for speaking truth to power; the deep state is determined to deprive him of his right to free speech, and clearly wants him murdered in prison, and thereby out of the way. If, as his critics maintain, the above represents a litany of  lies, distortions and fantasies, why is it, the question is asked, that Robinson’s notoriety is forever growing.Because he is given too much airtime, his enemies answer. Treat him with silence, they argue.

That is not practical: the so-called mainstream media(MSM for the intiated on all ends of the political spectrum)has lost its previous monopoly, and Robinson knows it. Take for instance his release on August 1 from his 13-month sentence which he was  serving at Onley Prison. Speaking to reporters, Robinson said: “All the British media do is lie. I have a lot to say but nothing to you.””I want to thank the British public for all their support.”-that is the thousands who demonstrated to “Free Tommy”.

As the BBC White House reporter, Tara McKelvey, has pointed out, Robinson has gone international, gaining support from the likes of Steve Bannon and Donald Trump Junior. Tucker Carlson of Fox News was the first to give him an interview after his release:

I summarise some of the points:

  • Condemned within 5 hours of his arrest, Robinson pointed out that he was placed in prison for two months, in solitary confinement, impediments were placed in the way of his seeing his lawyers, and his family was subjected to threats.
  • He was moved from a prison with a small Muslim population,where he could circulate relatively freely, to the UK prison with the highest Muslim population in the land. His food was prepared by Muslims, so he could not eat it; his cell was below ground level, with a window looking on to the mosque, through which prisoners pushed excrement and spit, so that in the heat wave he had to bar his window and swelter in an airless cell.
  • During the two months, Robinson lost 40 lbs of weight. His diet amounted to a tin of tuna fish a day. The prison service knew of his medical record that he had suffered after 5 months of solitary confinement in 2012, but still placed him in solitary confinement on the grounds that they were concerned for his safety.

Many questions are unanswered: the judge did recognize that the correct procedure had not been followed at Leeds Crown Court. But why is it he was placed back in solitary confinement? Why was he moved to a prison with a large Muslim population? Why did none of the UK’s high visibility human rights organisations defend his cause? Why has he been repeatedly apprehended, verbally assaulted,and imprisoned?  Vince Crawthron, 70, a Royal Navy veteran, and a Robinson reporter, said: “Tommy has been unjustly imprisoned. They want to silence him because he challenges the status quo.”


Robinson definitely falls within an older working class culture, identified with street brawls, time in prison served as a badge of pride,  loyalty to the armed forces, and-a more novel development-an identification with the flag of St George, the patron saint of England.  But he is now married, with three children; he admits his misdeeds; and he vigorously denies the epithets with which he is liberally smeared in the media. He is also courageous, and his life experience provides an indispensable source to explain his story. Here he is speaking to the Oxford Union:

So let us start with his critics. Here is Matthew Parris discussing UKIP’s possible revival following Prime Minister May’s Chequers plan for BRINO (Brexit in name only). “Ukip’s present stance under its latest leader Gerard Batten (who has developed links with the campaign for the disgraced and imprisoned former leader of the English Defence League, Tommy Robinson), looks crazier by the week”.

In this excerpt from The Spectator, Parris uses smear : the only truth in what he says is that Robinson has been imprisoned. The adjective “disgraced” raises the question: in the eyes of whom, and on what grounds? No reference is made to facts. The man’s reputation is picked up, rubbished, and cast haughtily aside. The phrase “former leader of the English Defence League” is a Parris dog-whistle to his chosen audience, who are impervious to Robinson’s own account of why the EDL started, how it was eventually penetrated by racialists, and why he resigned. There is no mention of the fact that the EDL had no colour or religious bar. Parris is an artful practioner of Goebbels’ maxim:“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. “

Here is David Aaronovitch in The Times, in an article pointing out that conservatives around Europe, the US, and in the UK, are feeling the pull to the extremes. “This fatalistic logic(that Islam is incompatible with western traditions and values) leads even former neoconservatives to line up with Donald Trump’s view that the task is to keep jobs in, foreigners out and the precious bodily fluids of our culture safe behind a wall. The anti-Muslim street-brawler Tommy Robinson, who in times past would have been shunned entirely, is now spoken of by some on the right who should know better, as a rough hero of the new struggle.”

This is much closer to reality: Robinson is a street brawler; he was, and continues to be shunned by polite society, and he is being spoken of “as a rough hero of the new struggle”. Robinson, though, denies that he is anti-Muslim; he is anti-Islam, he continually asserts, not against individuals, and he is against radical interpretations of Islam. He definitely depicts himself as “a rough hero of the new struggle”-and makes quite clear that if the law had been applied even-handedly, he would not be doing what he is. As I have argued, along with others, Robinson is a creation of official cowardice.

Then there is the argument that Robinson is white, and so privileged. Weyman Bennett, the joint national secretary of Stand Up to Racism, described the judgment to free Robinson on bail as “mistaken”. “We believe that it will encourage racists and Islamophobes to build and organise,” he said. “I believe if he was a black kid from Tottenham, where I’m from, he would still be in jail.”

This is victim theology in full technicolour. It is the new New Left view of the world, where the old Marxist-Leninist trope of permanent class war has been transmogrified into permanent war between the races. There is the same Marxist-Leninist claim to prediction: because Robinson is white, he will be treated more kindly than blacks. There is the same Marxist-Leninist deployment of the word “racism” (not racialism), as useful because rythming with “fascism”. There  is the well-worn Marxist-Leninist belittling of religion in the amalgam of racialism and “Islamophobia”: the statement is that you are Islamophobic because you are racialist, not because you have objections to the content or practice of the religion.

The most telling critique of Robinson is that his case has nothing to do with free speech. As the judges at Canterbury and Leeds Crown Court repeated, Robinson was seen by the judges as threatening a live criminal trial in defiance of laws designed to ensure the trial was fair. Robinson’s “citizen journalism” was creating the very real risk of serious criminal cases collapsing.

Here is Melanie Phillips, who in 2006 published a prescient book, Londinistan: How Britain is Building a Terror State Within,on Robinson. “In May, I wrote this on my blog: For the reason Yaxley-Lennon was locked up was nothing to do with free speech or the nature of his political views. It had everything to do instead with defending the rule of law and the principle of a fair trial.” Quoting a recent article of hers in The Times,she put her finger on an important political development-the growing gap between the US and the UK.

One incendiary article in the US after another allege that the UK is now a fascist state ruled by Sharia law; that his sentence (at Leeds Corwn Court)is wholly disproportionate; that he was tried in secret; that the state jailed him in order to have him killed; and that “Robinson is being presented as a martyr to free speech and his jailing has been turned into an international cause célèbre.” His supporters “arrogance is even greater than their ignorance of the English legal system and their consequent utter inability even to understand the words of a judge’s ruling”-that he was put behind bars for contempt of court.

Concluding points;

Robinson is still in trouble. He faces trial on September 4that the Old Bailey. The Lord Chief Justice has indicated that the allegations are serious, and could lead to an even longer sentence. Melanie Phillips is absolutely correct to point out that his freedom to speak is not in question, but that he is held in contempt of court. And she is right to add that since Andrew Norfolk’s revelations about Muslim-dominated rape gangs, some steps are being taken by the authorities to apply the law more evenly.

A central tenet of Robinson’s case is that the law has not been applied evenly. In this, he is in agreement with Weymann Bennett, of Stand up to Racism. Robinson considers that the white working class of Luton, his home town, is the victim; Bennett considers whites privileged, and blacks victims. This fluffy thinking: who is more of a victim?- finds its way into official policy: a statement is “offensive” if the target considers it so; race and religion are considered one and the same; smears à la Parris-Goebbels are accepted as statements of fact; law enforcement agencies tip-toe where “offense” may be caused.

Robinson has become a hero, and he knows it. He has a wide followership, in the UK, in Europe, and around the world. He has a solid case to make: see his speech to the Oxford Union, where he addresses a hostile audience, and clearly speaks to them through his living experience as growing up in Luton. When he talks of Muslim extremism, he knows what he’s talking about.

Not least, the argument that he is being persecuted by the British state cannot be easily dismissed.

Melanie Phillips writes that he was put in solitary confinement for his own safety. If safety was the prior concern, why was he moved from a low to a high-intensity Muslim prison? Why did Muslims, as he alleges, prepare his food? Why did the prison authorities not take his medical record into account in placing him in solitary? Why was his cell window on the ground floor, through which excrement and spit was passed?  Why 23 hours a day in the present heat? Why did none of the high visibility human rights organisations in the UK take up his cause? Why did he exit prison having lost 40 lbs in 2 months? What to make of Judge Norton in Canterbury Crown Court, commenting on the dangers which Robinson would face in prison(from Muslim prisoners), who says in her judgement, “ a very large part of me thinks so what? “.

The case I make is that Robinson is the product of official cowardice, and official cowardice is the result of post-modernist thinking penetrating the whole body of the state and law, where applying the law becomes a matter of discretion, and discretion is decided on feeling. That is what Judge Norton is saying. She introduces her own sentiments into her judgement. That is as disgraceful as Parris-type smears are despicable.

If we base domestic politics on feelings, and we accept that domestic policy is the bed on which foreign policy is based, can we be surprised that the UK’s international relations are becoming unpredictable? The case of Tommy Robinson illustrates clearly that the UK urgently needs to ensure that the law must be seen to be applied even-handedly. For that to be so, the law has to be colour-blind, and definitely not post-modern.  It would also help if the quality of argument in the UK media was raised a notch or two.


About Jonathan Story, Professor Emeritus, INSEAD

Jonathan Story is Emeritus Professor of International Political Economy at INSEAD. Prior to joining INSEAD in 1974, he worked in Brussels and Washington, where he obtained his PhD from Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. He has held the Marusi Chair of Global Business at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and is currently Distinguished Visiting Professor at the Graduate Schoold of Business, Fordham University, New York. He is preparing a monograph on China’s impact on the world political economy, and another on a proposal for a contextual approach to business studies. He has a chapter forthcoming on the Euro crisis. His latest book is China UnCovered: What you need to know to do business in China, (FT/ Pearson’s, 2010) ( His previous books include “China: The Race to Market” (FT/Pearsons, 2003), The Frontiers of Fortune, (Pitman’s, 1999); and The Political Economy of Financial Integration in Europe : The Battle of the Systems,(MIT Press, 1998) on monetary union and financial markets in the EU, and co-authored with Ingo Walter of NYU. His books have been translated into French, Italian, German, Spanish, Chinese, Korean and Arabic. He is also a co-author in the Oxford Handbook on Business and Government(2010), and has contributed numerous chapters in books and articles in professional journals. He is a regular contributor to newspapers, and has been four times winner of the European Case Clearing House “Best Case of the Year” award. His latest cases detail hotel investments in Egypt and Argentina, as well as a women’s garment manufacturer in Sri Lanka and a Chinese auto parts producer. He teaches courses on international business and the global political economy. At the INSEAD campus, in Fontainebleau and Singapore, he has taught European and world politics, markets, and business in the MBA, and PhD programs. He has taught on INSEAD’s flagship Advanced Management Programme for the last three decades, as well as on other Executive Development and Company Specific courses. Jonathan Story works with governments, international organisations and multinational corporations. He is married with four children, and, now, thirteen grandchildren. Besides English, he is fluent in French, German, Spanish, Italian, reads Portuguese and is learning Russian. He has a bass voice, and gives concerts, including Afro-American spirituals, Russian folk, classical opera and oratorio.
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