Government stepping up monitoring of far-right groups after Knowsley protest

A protest outside a hotel housing asylum seekers in Knowsley saw a police van vandalised and fireworks thrown. Credit: Liverpool Echo

Monitoring of far-right groups involved in protests such as the one outside a hotel housing asylum seekers in Knowsley in Merseyside is being stepped up, Home Office minister Robert Jenrick has said.

Mr Jenrick said the behaviour of a number of groups involved in the protest and others “is at times disgraceful, vile and should be stamped out”, adding they are being monitored “closely” and action will be taken against them if necessary.

In a speech to the Commons he added the activity of a “small number of legal practitioners” is being monitored, following his assertion that human rights lawyers are exploiting the abusing the legal system.

He was speaking as MPs discussed a protest on 10 February outside a hotel housing asylum seekers in Knowsley which saw a police van vandalised and fireworks thrown.

A police van was set alight during the protest. Credit: PA Images

Asking an urgent question on the incident, Labour MP for Knowsley and former minister Sir George Howarth said he had “concerns” about the “involvement of far-right groups” from outside of Knowsley.

He said: “Does he share my concern about the involvement of the far-right groups… and will he consider proscribing them?”

Police in riot gear during the protest outside the Suites Hotel in Knowsley, Merseyside, in February 2023 Credit: Peter Powell/PA

Mr Jenrick replied: “He is right to say that there are a number of groups who have been involved in this protest and those elsewhere in the country – and the behaviour of those groups is at times disgraceful, vile and should be stamped out.

“We have been monitoring those groups closely and I have asked my officials at the Home Office and wider police colleagues, including the Police Co-ordination Centre to continue doing so, and indeed to step up that activity. If we need to take further action against those groups, we will."

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper described the scenes in Knowsley as “appalling and shameful”, and said asylum seekers should not be housed in hotels and dangerous Channel crossings should be prevented.

Seven people were locked up over the disturbance on Monday Credit: Peter Powell/PA

She said: “How we have that debate also matters, because Government and Opposition and everyone has a responsibility to do so in a way that is calm, common sense and doesn’t inflame tensions or divide communities and I know that he will regret the fact that some of the Home Secretary’s language has also appeared on some of the placards, and I say on all sides we need to have a calm debate on this.”

Mr Jenrick said: “The Home Secretary has condemned the violence unequivocally that we saw in Knowsley and that’s absolutely right because there is never any excuse for violence, intimidation or attacks on the police.”

He rejected the suggestion that a Home Office backlog is to blame for the use of hotels, saying: “The way to tackle this issue is not by making the UK a more attractive destination, it is by tackling the illegal gangs themselves and changing the incentives.”

Riot police in Knowsley at anti-refugee protest Credit: PA

He told MPs the Government is planning to end the use of hotels “as swiftly as possible”, adding: “Better forms of accommodation will include dispersal accommodation, where we work closely and constructively with local authorities… to find suitable properties to consult the local community and then to house asylum seekers for as long as it’s necessary in them.

“That plan is now moving forward and we’ve reached regional agreements with local authorities and it is for the Home Office and those local hosts to ensure that that’s implemented as swiftly as possible.”

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