Far-right organisations influencers and their followers lauded Tuesday's asylum and migration speech by Home Secretary Suella Braverman, delighting in its potential for bringing their extreme ideology further into the mainstream.
In her remarks to the American Enterprise Institute – a major right-wing think tank in Washington, DC – Braverman stated “uncontrolled and illegal immigration” poses an “existential challenge” to the West. She claimed “the global asylum framework … creates huge incentives for illegal migration” and asked whether the Refugee Convention, a product of the refugee crises caused by the Second World War and signed up to by Conservative Prime Minister Winston Churchill, was “fit for our modern age or in need of reform.”
“We will not be able to sustain an asylum system if in effect, simply being gay, or a woman, and fearful of discrimination in your country of origin, is sufficient to qualify for protection,” she said.
The comments were roundly condemned by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), who said in a statement that “the refugee convention remains as relevant today as when it was adopted”. The Refugee Council tweeted that “these international frameworks exist to protect everyone” and that “all people fleeing persecution – including for their sexuality or beliefs – should have the right to safety”. Labour’s Yvette Cooper accused Braverman of being “deeply divisive". Even popstar Elton John weighed in to say “we are very concerned about the UK home secretary's comments”.
However, Braverman's speech found a much warmer reception in online forums linked to the convicted fraudster and far-right activist Stephen Yaxley-Lennon – more commonly known by his pseudonym Tommy Robinson – and former British National Party member and Patriotic Alternative leader Mark Collet.
Members of Tommy Robinson’s Official Telegram Chat called Braverman’s comments “spot on”, and praised them as “bravo, sense from a politician”. One wrote: “I can see her standing for PM”.
The Telegram channel, which has nearly 7,000 members, regularly shares racist and antisemitic content. One post from 27 September stated “Hitler was right about the Jews”. Responding to Wednesday's news reports that a teenage girl had been murdered in South London, another wrote “die Sadiq Khan”.
Yaxley-Lennon himself posted a clip from Braverman's speech on his own Telegram channel, Tommy Robinson News, with the caption “UK home secretary Suella Braverman: ‘Multiculturalism has failed’”. In a second post, referring to comments in her speech where she said “multiculturalism makes no demands of the incomer to integrate”, he wrote “fit in or f**k off”. In response, a follower commented that “if fit in and f**k off was said from the beginning, we wouldn’t have a mosque on every street”.
The obviously false claim that there is a mosque on every street echoes the far-right Great Replacement conspiracy, which holds that white people are being “replaced” by Muslims and other black and minority ethnic people in the Global North.
Another follower celebrated how helpful Braverman’s speech was for far-right campaigners, writing “we can use this to get the discussion of mass deportations into general conversation and wake up some sheeple”.
This channel also regularly features racist language – with one member commenting on a separate thread that Zimbabwe went to “s**t” after “white rule was over”.
"It is the homeland of the ethnic British"
Fans of Yaxley-Lennon were not alone in praising the Home Secretary.
The leader of Patriotic Alternative, Mark Collett, told his 16,000 Telegram subscribers that Braverman’s comments were a “good thing for nationalism” and would help to normalise the hateful policies that he and his organisation’s members advocate. “When people in positions of authority makes [sic] speeches like this it gives normal people who are usually silent the strength to stand up and start voicing their opinions,” he wrote.
“We should capitalise on this and do our best to take control of this situation and steer the national conversation in the correct direction,” he added.
The far-right political party Britain First, meanwhile, said it “wholeheartedly endorsed” Braverman’s speech and that she was “saying publicly what everyone at home is privately thinking”.
At the same time, far-right activists blended their praise for the speech with racist and misogynistic comments about Braverman herself and called for her own deportation.
Followers of Collett demanded that Braverman be deported, writing “it's time for you and Rishi to pack your bags and head for Heathrow Terminal Two. It is not "our" (your) society. It is the homeland of the ethnic British”, to which a fellow member of the channel responded that she should know she is a “guest in someone’s home”. Another called for forced repatriations. Collett accused the Conservative Party of encouraging “white genocide”.
Yaxley-Lennon’s followers also joined in the racist abuse against the Home Secretary, calling her a “parasite” and saying she is responsible for the “invasion” – a term she has herself used to describe migration. One stated that “she is one of them”, in reference to her family’s Indian heritage, and asked if she would “deport herself”.
Braverman’s speech has touched on many other far-right tropes that may sound like ordinary xenophobia to the average listener, but which resonate powerfully with the far right. These included comments about the number of babies born to “foreign born mothers” and resultant pressures on classrooms, a common talking point on far-right channels. The far-right anti-abortion Rescue magazine made similar comments in 2018, claiming “the empty… school chairs where our own children should be are occupied by aliens”.
She further claimed that “not all” the people who have tragically died trying to come to the UK via irregular means were refugees, fuelling popular far-right commentary that people crossing the channel are arriving here for economic reasons, not because they are fleeing persecution or conflict. This ignores how 92% of people crossing the Channel go on to claim asylum.
Other far-right talking points repeated in Braverman’s speech, and which have gone on to influence migration policy, is the suggestion that countries such as India, Albania and Turkey are safe, and therefore people fleeing persecution in those countries are not genuinely refugees. This ignores the fact that anyone can experience persecution in any country – Muslim people in India, for example, the LGBTIQ community in Turkey, and sex trafficking victims in Albania.
Sonya Sceats, Chief Executive at Freedom from Torture, criticised the “shocking” language from the Home Secretary, and said that “instead of embracing authoritarianism, we should confront it and ensure compassion for those tortured and persecuted by countries that have long ago decided that laws to protect basic human dignity are dispensable.”