Given the febrile atmosphere of distrust and fear that is sure to follow last night’s appalling atrocities in Paris, where more than 100 innocent people were killed in terrorist shootings and bombings, the management of Fairfield Halls, Croydon police and the council leadership may need to reconsider very carefully whether to allow the staging of a meeting, ostensibly to debate Britain’s future in the European Union, in which one of the lead speakers is a UKIP MEP who has been accused of peddling Islamophobia.
Gerard Batten’s “Charter of Muslim Understanding” might have been cut-and-paste from the manifesto of a far-right group, and its premise so appalled his own party leader, Nigel Farage, that he has stated publicly that the charter and its contents “are not and never have been UKIP policy”.
But Batten remains a UKIP member and on Monday he is the “star turn” of an event being enthusiastically promoted by Peter Morgan, the Coulsdon resident notorious for having his membership of the Croydon Tories suspended while he was also being expelled from UKIP for “being a disruptive influence”.
Monday night’s event has Batten speaking on the case for Brexit, with Tom Brake, the LibDem MP for Carshalton and Wallington, the best they can find to make the case for Britain’s continued EU membership. There are no Croydon politicians – national or local – willing to share the platform with Batten.
Croydon’s Tory MPs probably know their ex-member Morgan too well to want to have anything to do with an event with which he is associated. Morgan is a leading player in the discredited Croydon Communities [sic] Consortium, which is subject to legal action for the recovery of money owed to Croydon Council. It was Morgan who ran the election hustings meetings organised by the “apolitical” CCC in 2014 and earlier this year.
Last week saw the Coulsdon motoring campaigner issue a public plea to his own MP, Croydon South’s Chris Philp, emploring him to debate with Batten. “As one of your constituents, I really do hope you come along and put your views on this,” Morgan wrote. “I am sure the organisers would be very happy to add you as a speaker,” he assured the MP, as if he had some “in” with the organisers.
“What would be a good enough deal for you to argue for a vote remain?” Morgan prodded. “How about Britain getting back the right to say who can and who can’t flood in from Roumania [sic] and Bulgaria?” Note the arcane 1950s Torygraph-style spelling of the Balkan state. “How else can you deliver a cut in net immigration from the current 330,000 a year to the promised tens of thousands?”
That the issue of immigration, with barely disguised undertones of racism, will dominate the charade of Monday’s proposed debate at the Fairfield Halls was made more obvious by some leaflets distributed locally last night, just as the first shots were being fired in Paris.
Households in and around East Croydon received flyers promoting Monday’s event, ostensibly delivered by an organisation called “Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy”, or EFDD, the European Parliament group that includes UKIP, and Batten.
On the reverse of the leaflet is a picture of Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor.
Above her picture is the line “Q: What EU Concessions Will David Cameron Win For Britain?”
Below, it states “A: Whatever Angela Merkel Lets Him Have”. Side-splitting stuff, we’re sure.
The leaflet then goes on to state that some EU states are giving illegal migrants passports and sending them on their way to Calais. It further states that there is nothing we can do to stop them.
It amounts to the worst sort of anti-refugee scaremongering, playing on public fears with half-baked arguments and outright untruths. The leaflet conjures up the image of thousands heading for Britain for our generous benefits and soft-touch asylum laws. In fact, most refugees are desperate to flee poverty and persecution, and wars that have largely been a consequence of British and American foreign policy.
The leaflet promoting Monday’s “debate” fails to mention that Britain’s immigration laws and our border controls are wholly under our own control, and have nothing to do with the EU. The United Kingdom is not part of the Schengen area, and that’s why we all have to go through passport control when leaving and entering UK for another EU state.
Likewise, UK law on asylum seekers is based on the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, both of which precede our joining the EU. Leaving the EU won’t make an iota difference to how Britain responds to asylum seekers, migrants or refugees.
In the immediate aftermath of the Friday’s Paris attacks, the EFDD leaflet promoting Monday’s “debate” at the Fairfield Halls betrays Batten’s stance as being insidious and very dangerous.
When David Cameron described UKIP as “fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists, mostly”, it is entirely possible that Batten, who has been merrily pocketing EU cash as an MEP for London since 2004, was among those he had in mind.
Certainly, Batten never hesitates to display questionable views on Islam. Earlier this year, following the previous terrorist shootings in Paris, Batten renewed his call for Muslims in Britain to sign a declaration against violence.
Batten, who represents London in the European Parliament, co-authored “A Proposed Charter of Muslim Understanding” in 2006. The document calls on Muslims to reject parts of the Qur’an which he claims promote “violent physical jihad”.
In a blog post published in January, a day after the tragic attacks in which 17 people at Charlie Hebdo were killed by Islamic extremists, Batten called for “representatives of Islam” and those who practice the faith to sign his charter to mark themselves out from the “tiny minority of Muslims who want to return to the Dark Ages of Arabia and live under Sharia Law”.
Batten has also said that it was a mistake for Europe to allow “an explosion of mosques across their land”.
Back in January, when Batten last dusted off his charter in public, Sadiq Khan, now Labour’s candidate for London Mayor, said that he was “appalled at the ignorance that Gerard Batten appears to have shown when speaking about the faith that I and hundreds of thousands of British Muslims practice”.
And this morning, Inside Croydon‘s loyal reader, having had Batten’s publicity material thrust through their letter box, said, “I am deeply disappointed that the tone of the debate has started this way, with disingenuous statements built upon outright lies.
“I am profoundly disturbed that the wholly irrelevant issue of asylum seekers should be introduced. What we need is a calm balanced and truthful debate about continuing EU membership.”
The question which arises now is whether the Fairfield Halls management and the Croydon Council leadership believe it is appropriate, at this time, to give Batten a platform from which he may attempt to use yesterday’s horrific and appalling events in Paris to try to stir up inter-community hatred in the country’s most multi-cultural boroughs.
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