Brett attended the demonstration and condemned protesters, saying: “What I saw was a loud and unruly bunch who were showing hate towards what seemed to me to be a peaceful and lawful act of remembrance.”
Oxford Unite Against Fascism, one of the groups in attendance, have denied this, describing their actions as “peaceful”. OUAF have set up an online petition calling for Brett to stand down, and Twitter users have criticised the Deputy Lord Mayor’s attendance at the event.
Brett criticised protesters for “jeering” at people and leaving floral tributes “squashed and badly damaged”, observing that “one young woman tried to walk away with half of the flowers.”
Ian McKendrick, secretary and spokesman for OUAF, refuted this, commenting: “There was no chanting, no trouble”. He argued that Brett’s remarks were “divisive and unhelpful”.
The Green Party councillor for University Parks, Sam Coates, has also asked Brett for an immediate apology.
The protest had originally been organised by the English Defence League, who had intended to lay wreaths in memory of Lee Rigby, the soldier murdered in a terror attack in Woolwich on 22nd May. Though the original EDL protest had been organised as part of a nationwide set of local protests, no members of EDL appeared to show up in Oxford, leaving anti-fascist and pro-democracy groups to stage their own counter-protest.
Approximately 25 demonstrators, some connected with feminist, pro-democracy and anti-fascist organisations, marched from the city centre to the St Giles Memorial on Saturday afternoon, carrying anti-EDL and BNP banners and placards. The counter-protest concluded with representatives from Oxford Unite Against Fascism, the Oxford Feminist Network, and Oxford for Democracy addressing the crowd.
Ian McCendrick spoke to those assembled at the Memorial. He said: ”the EDL are stating a false history, by presenting themselves as patriots”, adding that ”they are a bunch of racists who have been humiliated today”.
Also addressing the protesters was a representative from the Oxford Feminist Network who said: ”having lost relatives fighting the fascists in the Second World War, I am disgusted by the thought of fascists honouring fallen soldiers”. She added that there was a need for “unity and strength”, and that anti-fascism, “is an important feminist issue”.
Sarah Pine, third year PPE student at Wadham, was attending the protest as a representative of the Oxford Feminist Network. Explaining her motivation for taking part, she commented: ”the EDL are using racist rhetoric to inspire hatred and divide communities”.
Another student at the demonstration, commented anonymously that he was not attending the protest as part of one of the organisations present, but had joined in spontaneously. He stated: ”I am against the racist, fascist and violent tactics of the English Defence League”, adding that ”such tactics work to sow hatred and division into the community”.
The English Defence League is a far right-wing street protest movement which was founded in 2009. In its mission statement, the group claims to be acting against ”religiously inspired intolerance and barbarity that are thriving amongst certain sections of the Muslim population in Britain”.
After their 20-minute-long demonstration, the groups dispersed, some joining the simultaneous Bedroom Tax demonstration taking place in the city centre.
There were a number of police present at the protest, but they were not needed as it remained peaceful and confined to the monument itself.
Anti-EDL protestors are also planning to protest against another proposed EDL demonstration, due to take place in Abingdon tomorrow.
Alongside his role as Deputy Lord Mayor, Brett is also a Liberal Democrat councillor for the Carfax Ward.