Anti-immigration protesters shouted ‘England ’till I die’ as they clashed with police in Dover today after a record 409 desperate asylum seekers crossed the Channel in one day this week.
Hundreds of campaigners were confronted by groups of pro-migrant protesters in a counter-demonstration following the arrival of 5,600 refugees in small boats this year.
There were fears of violence ahead of today’s demonstrations as many announced their intention to assemble in the Kent town as officers were seen at one stage restraining a protester on the ground before arresting them.
The protest had blocked the A20 dual carriageway, the main route in and out of the port, which has since been reopened.
But by 2pm, the group of around 100 pro-migrant protesters that had gathered in the town centre had dispersed, while the anti-migrant activists were being walked off by officers.
Officers made ten arrests during today’s protests, including for racially aggravated public order, violent disorder and assaulting an emergency worker. Enquiries are ongoing to identify any other offences.
The remaining anti-migrant protesters were pushed all the way up to the railway station, with police on horseback among the large numbers of officers moving the line along.
Traffic on the A20 was at a standstill in both directions after protesters assembled on the road in large numbers.
Port of Dover Travel wrote on Twitter: ‘Traffic still moving in and out of Port during ongoing protest that is disrupting both sides of A20 in Dover. Community still advised to consider alternative local routes and customers allow plenty of time for their journey.’
Port of Dover Travel confirmed at 2.37pm on Twitter that the road had reopened and that traffic was ‘flowing smoothly’ towards the port.
Many protestors wore Union flag face masks and carried banners. Some shouted ‘England ’til I die’ and sang Rule, Britannia.
There have been other sporadic clashes with the group of at least 50 police officers by the A20. It is thought that groups from across the country have travelled to Dover.
It comes despite pleas from local MP Natalie Elphicke to ‘stay away’ to prevent a second wave of Covid-19.
Speaking on Friday, MP Natalie Elphicke said: ‘People are rightly angry about the number of people breaking into Britain in small boats. It is completely unacceptable.
‘But a protest in Dover in the middle of a pandemic is not a sensible or responsible thing to do. We cannot risk a second wave – protesters should stay away from Dover this weekend.
‘Police resources are better used fighting crime than policing political demonstrations.’
The Kent town saw ugly clashes in 2016 when rival protest groups assembled to demonstrate over immigration.
Meanwhile a demonstrator who goes by the name The Little Veteran on social media is calling on people to ‘shut the port down for days’ in protest against migrant crossings.
In a video posted on YouTube, he distanced himself from other groups who may come to the port and called for a peaceful demonstration.
Instead he called on people to drive slowly along roads and block harbour entrances with boats.
The protest comes days after a record 409 migrants in 28 boats reached the UK. So far this year, at least 5,586 refugees have crossed the Channel by boat.
The increasing number of arrivals has led to an inquiry by the Home Affairs Select Committee, who heard from Home Office and National Crime Agency leaders on immigration enforcement measures.
Among those who appeared was NCA director of threat leadership Robert Jones and former Royal Marine Dan O’Mahoney, who was appointed ‘clandestine Channel threat commander’ by Home Secretary Priti Patel last month.
It comes after a range of measures have been taken to try to prevent people reaching Britain via the Channel such as using Army drones and other armed forces aircraft, including Atlas A-400M, Shadow R1 and P-8 Poseidon, to help monitor Channel crossings.
Meanwhile, the Royal Navy is considering deploying small patrol boats to the Channel to assist Border Force teams.
Think tank IPPR has also criticised the Government’s ‘hostile environment’ deterrent policy, claiming it has failed due to ‘systematic flaws’ in its approach.
It criticised policies it said were intended to encourage people living in the UK without immigration status to leave voluntarily by making it harder for them to get jobs, rent property, open bank accounts, and access welfare and other vital public services.
The think tank’s analysis suggested that the number of voluntary returns which were independent of Home Office involvement has fallen since 2014, when most of the policies were introduced.
Around 12,000 more people without immigration status were independently voluntarily leaving the UK in 2012 than they were in 2018, said the IPPR.
On Friday night the words ‘Rise above fear. Refugees welcome’ were beamed onto the White Cliffs of Dover by humanitarian charity Freedom From Torture.
A heavy police presence is in place in the town, with large concentrations of officers in Market Square and the railway station.
A cohort of officers on horseback are among those monitoring the situation.
Various groups had announced their intention to travel to Dover on Saturday to protest for or against migrant crossings.
Pro-migrant activists gathered in Market Square in a demonstration organised by Kent Anti Racism Network.
Concerns have been raised by anti-racist group Hope Not Hate that far-right groups will make the trip to Dover on Saturday.
Dr Joe Mulhall, head of research at Hope Not Hate, said there had been a build-up of anger among the far-right as migrant crossings have continued.
He said: ‘It’s one that has a potential for popular support so a lot of the grifters on the far-right are not going to let an opportunity like this go by.
‘There’s a danger that there will be violence, Dover has a history of that.’
In 2016, 13 people were arrested and six injured after protesters brawled with hundreds of anti-fascist campaigners.
Yobs pelted the anti-fascists with metal poles and bottles – and they hit back by launching bricks. One person suffered a broken arm in the fracas.
Two coaches at a nearby service station had swastikas painted on them in blood.
Meanwhile, others were expected to try and ‘shut the port down’ by driving slowly along roads and potentially trying to block harbour entrances with boats.
Anti-racist group Hope Not Hate had raised concerns in advance of the event that there will be violence and that splintered elements of the British far-right may also travel to Dover.
Chief Superintendent Nigel Brookes from Kent Police said: ‘As a force, it is our responsibility to facilitate peaceful protests, however we will not tolerate violence or disorder.
‘Anyone planning to visit Dover with the intention of committing offences should be aware they are not welcome here and that we will seek to prosecute anyone who breaks the law.’
He added: ‘Kent Police was clear that we would facilitate peaceful protest but would not tolerate violence or disorder.
‘Our experienced officers sought to keep transport routes moving and balance the rights of those taking part in the protests with those living and working in Dover.
‘We stated that it was unacceptable for anyone to use the event as an excuse for criminal behaviour and we were robust in taking action against those who did. Enquiries will continue to identify any further offences which took place during the protests.’
Dr Mulhall said the anti-racist protest in Market Square could be a ‘possible flashpoint’ for tensions.
However he says Hope Not Hate are ‘less fearful’ than they were a few days ago, with some far-right elements not expected to make the trip.
Police are still trying to establish how many people are going to be involved in protests and have announced a ‘significantly increased’ police presence will be in place.
Chief Superintendent Nigel Brookes, of Kent Police, said: ‘As a force, it is our responsibility to facilitate peaceful protests, however we will not tolerate violence or disorder.
‘Anyone planning to visit Dover with the intention of committing offences should be aware they are not welcome here and that we will seek to prosecute anyone who breaks the law.
‘We always urge organisers to work with us beforehand to ensure their actions are not undermined by anyone who may seek to attend such an event simply as an excuse to commit acts of violence and disorder.
‘Whilst we respect the right to protest peacefully our aim will be to balance that right with the rights of other people in the town.
‘The public should be assured that we have a great deal of experience dealing with protests and will use officers specially trained to deal with events of this nature.
He went on to echo Elphicke’s comments, saying that anyone planning to attend the protest should consider the risks posed by the virus.
The total number of migrants who have crossed the sea to Britain in 2020 is now more than 5,600.