7 November 2022

Interlocking crises are creating fertile ground for far-right extremism


With police announcing that the firebombing of a migrant processing facility was motivated by extreme right-wing ideology, there will be renewed concerns over Britain’s fastest-growing threat. 

Andrew Leak, the 66-year-old who hurled up to three incendiary devices at the site in Dover, is believed to have later taken his own life. What’s particularly concerning is that Leak, from High Wycombe, was not known to either counter-terrorism police or to the security services prior to the attack. Given the evidence suggesting that he had deep-dived into inflammatory far-right online content, as well as personally expressing his intention to carry out forms of anti-Muslim violence, Leak appears to represent a somewhat underdeveloped area of research – the cyber-radicalisation of older people. 

Having produced research on extreme right-wing activity myself, I know there is a myriad of social, cultural and economic factors which run the risk of feeding the far-right beast. Indeed, the Dover attack came shortly after I warned of a hard-right backlash brewing in Britain.

This is a problem that has been long in the making. Compared to other democracies, Britain – along with the United States – has traditionally suffered from relatively high levels of political disaffection. It is entirely plausible that the twin crises of porous borders and the ever-rising cost of living could fuel forms of anti-establishment sentiment that offer fertile ground for extreme right-wing narratives. It’s a particular risk in deprived parts of the country where the perception of increased competition for resources may feel particularly acute. As Poppy Coburn noted on CapX recently, that includes some of our coastal towns, which are among the UK’s most deprived areas and often bear the brunt of the Channel migrant crisis.

The security risk of the ongoing border-security crisis cannot be overstated. Border Force officials have expressed concerns over those with likely criminal pasts entering the country – with some of the young men originating from Albania reported to be sporting prison tattoos. There is also the possibility that some of those who are part of the stream of illegal Channel crossings have previously been deported by the UK. To make matters worse, official reports suggest that hundreds of migrants have absconded from hotels which are clearly under-supervised and poorly regulated forms of accommodation. Combined with the chaotic scenes we’ve seen recently in Manston, this really is a colossal public security failure. Not only is that a huge problem in itself, but it risks giving rise to the kind of ugly, xenophobic sentiments that the far-right thrives on and does its best to nurture.

While some of the migrants originate from unstable socio-political environments in Asian Muslim-majority countries such as Afghanistan, Syria and Iran, the recent Home Office statistics show that the comfortable majority are from Albania. This in itself is problematic, as counter-extremism expert Ian Acheson has pointed out that many of the foreign fighters who ended up in Syria came from the Balkan country. It’s hardly stretching credibility to suggest that within the thousands of young Albanians illegally crossing the Channel, some may be combat-trained returnees from conflict-ridden territories who have struggled to (re)integrate themselves into life in their home country. This is a risk that the British public authorities seem underprepared for. 

While Home Secretary Suella Braverman have dialled up the rhetoric by referring to the migrant crisis on the English south coast as an ‘invasion’, it is time for meaningful policy delivery. Rebuilding diplomatic relations with France is critical in this context. This should include a joint initiative to pool financial and intelligence resources to dismantle people-smuggling infrastructures which span parts of Britain and northern France. The UK must reform existing forms of legislation which are undermining efforts to create a functioning asylum system. This would include the tightening of modern slavery laws that may be exploited to block deportations.

If the Government wishes to maintain international obligations such as being a signatory of the ECHR, it must shape its border security strategy by using provisions which clearly state that national governments can intervene in the allocation of rights under certain conditions. For example, Article 8(2) of the ECHR states that public authorities can intervene in the right to private and family life (regularly used as a legal defence to prevent removal from the UK) in the interests of ‘national security’ and ‘public safety’ – such as preventing disorder and crime. If it believes that offshore processing should be part of its border security strategy, it has to foster a legal framework which gives it the best chance of it becoming a reality.

The Conservatives must close the gap between the rhetoric and reality when it comes to Britain’s border-security crisis – and fast. A failure to do so will only serve to fuel anti-establishment sentiments in economically and culturally anxious communities which are susceptible to opportunistic extreme right-wing advances.

Click here to subscribe to our daily briefing – the best pieces from CapX and across the web.

CapX depends on the generosity of its readers. If you value what we do, please consider making a donation.

Dr Rakib Ehsan is an expert on social integration.

Columns are the author's own opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of CapX.