The Brexit Party has distanced itself from its most senior election official after BuzzFeed News found he had defended Tommy Robinson and repeatedly mocked the concept of Islamophobia.
Noel Matthews, the Brexit Party’s national election agent and the person with ultimate legal responsibility for its European election campaign, last year posted an article sympathetic to the far-right former EDL activist and wrote: “THIS. Tommy Robinson Drew Attention to Grooming Gangs. Britain Has Persecuted Him.”
Nigel Farage has said that one of his main reasons for quitting UKIP and setting up the Brexit Party was his former party’s “fixation” with Robinson and Islam.
But in developments that contradict Farage’s claims that his new party is “deeply intolerant of all intolerance”, in February this year — after the Brexit Party had been set up — Matthews praised a rally organised by Robinson at the BBC. “Tommy's no politician but it looks like he has the BBC bang to rights,” he wrote. “His rally is about corrupt media. It's not about racism or fascism.”
It can also be revealed that Matthews, a former UKIP candidate, has repeatedly questioned and mocked the concept of Islamophobia. Farage has previously insisted that his Brexit Party would not “even be discussing Islam”.
In a tweet last year Matthews asked: “Is it Islamaphobia or Islamophobia? I missed it when that word was made up”.
In 2017 he wrote that “Islamophobia is a silly, made up word” and also said: “poor old islamophobia. Used to be the best excuse for closing down the debate until those others came along”.
In another 2018 post he said Islamophobia is in fact “criticism of special treatment for those with religious conviction”.
Commenting on a Facebook video about Muslim integration in the UK, Matthews said: “This is a country which has serially condoned regressive religious practices under the watchful eye of so-called progressives who are ready to yell RACIST at any who dissent.”
Following the neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville at which a counter-protester was murdered, Matthews endorsed remarks by Donald Trump that both sides were to blame. “He’s right,” Matthews wrote.
Despite his defence of Robinson and his mockery of Islamophobia, Matthews has also criticised his former party UKIP for its own anti-Muslim rhetoric and its closeness to the far-right activist. “Confronting Islam does not get enough votes to win,” he has said.
The revelations raise further questions about those involved in Farage’s new supposedly single-issue party. Farage has declined to explain what the party’s positions are beyond Brexit, clashing with the BBC’s Andrew Marr over its views on Sunday.
Matthews is the third senior Brexit Party official to have been revealed to have posted offensive comments online. BuzzFeed News previously reported that the party’s founder Catherine Blaiklock had made a series of anti-Muslim comments. She later resigned from her position. Treasurer Michael McGough also quit after the Guardian uncovered his anti-Semitic Facebook posts.
The Sunday Times reported that a dozen former Conservative Party activists and candidates who had been suspended for Islamophobia and now campaigning for the Brexit Party.
Labour MP and People’s Vote campaigner Wes Streeting told BuzzFeed News: "This is the third Islamophobe Farage has appointed to a leading role in his new Brexit Party. It shows that Farage and his party are no more respectable than the racism he left behind in UKIP. British people, remain or leave, will be appalled by the hatred being spread by him and his party."
The anti-Muslim monitoring group Tell MAMA condemned Matthews. Its director Iman Atta said: “The comments from the lead officer and activist of the Brexit Party show a sympathy for Tommy Robinson as though he is being persecuted. He has door-stepped members of the public, instigated mobbing type activity online against individuals who call out his anti-Muslim and anti-Islamic slant and and led demonstrations that have caused tensions in communities.
“This support does not bode well for how the Brexit Party is portrayed and people need to think carefully when they vote about what they are voting for when such individuals promoting divisive messages are involved.”
The Muslim Council of Britain called on Farage to take action against Matthews. A spokesperson said: “We welcome the Brexit Party’s bold claim to be ‘deeply intolerant of intolerance’. With these latest revelations of bigotry, that party must now demonstrate these words in deeds. Otherwise there will be no difference between it and the UK Independence Party that trades in hatred against Muslims.”
A Brexit Party spokesperson said: "The Brexit Party does not condone or endorse any of these views. Noel Matthews was tweeting in a personal capacity before his involvement in the Brexit Party. His views do not represent those of the party or its leader."
Alex Wickham is a senior reporter with BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Alex Wickham at email@example.com.
Mark Di Stefano is a media and politics correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
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