Tommy Robinson, Former EDL Leader, Claims Quilliam Paid Him To Quit Far-Right Group

04/12/2015 15:52 | Updated 10 December 2015

Tommy Robinson claims he was paid thousands of pounds by the Quilliam Foundation to leave the English Defence League in a deal the anti-extremism think-tank coordinated so they could take "credit" for his resignation.

Quilliam has never previously acknowledged they paid Robinson to leave the group he formed in August 2009, or to work with them, and the 32-year-old has previously remained silent on the deal that was struck with the organisation he now says has "no credibility" and is "more despised by Muslims than I was".

Robinson, whose real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, unexpectedly announced he was quitting the EDL at a highly publicised press conference in October 2013, which he fronted alongside Quilliam director Maajid Nawaz, and his cousin, fellow defence league member, Kevin Carroll. Robinson, who is now aligned with Pegida UK, claims he made the decision to leave the EDL some time earlier, and it was unrelated to Quilliam.

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Tommy Robinson, Quilliam director Maajid Nawaz and Robinson's cousin and former EDL member Kevin Carroll at the press conference

Robinson told the Huffington Post UK that Quilliam, which was once said to receive millions of pounds of government funding, initially paid him £2,000 a month in a deal struck despite him expecting to be imprisoned the following month.

In November 2013 Robinson pleaded guilty to mortgage fraud, and two months later was sentenced to 18 months jail. Once inside, Robinson said Quilliam halved his payments - which were intended to cover "my wife's rent and help with basic bills, in return Tommy Robinson would be their poster boy".

Robinson claims he was on the Quilliam payroll for six months and received about £8,000. During that time, beyond attending the press conference, Robinson got involved in a few "Quilliam-orientated projects". One was a meeting in Luton between the EDL and a group of Muslims that was "chaos".

Quilliam on Friday acknowledged they paid Robinson, but refuted the nature of their financial agreement.

In a statement it said: "Quilliam never claimed to 'deradicalise' Tommy, nor 'reform' him, only that we facilitated his departure from the EDL. Quilliam cannot comment on Tommy's intentions (or "staging") for leaving the EDL, as it cannot read his mind. We simply helped him leave the EDL, rendering that group leaderless since.

"Tommy has never been a Quilliam member of staff, nor on our payroll, nor did he join Quilliam.

"Tommy was remunerated, as an external actor, after invoicing us for costs associated with outreach that he & Dr Usama Hassan did to Muslim communities after Tommy's departure from the EDL, in an attempt to reconcile Tommy with our Muslim communities. "

Robinson on Friday called Quilliam's response PR-Spin.

In his new book, Enemy Of The State, Robinson writes: "In October 2013 you might have seen a lot about Quilliam taking the credit for effectively converting me to the right side of the battle against extremism. I smiled to myself a lot about that.

"I dare say my motives were a bit muddled, although I honestly wanted to discover (if) Quilliam had something to offer but I'm not sure it has.

"Quilliam wanted to be seen to be facilitating my exit from the EDL and taking the credit for it. That was okay, I know how the world of public funding works. They have to show results from somewhere and I ticked the box of sorts."

Robinson wrote that Carroll thought Quilliam "were bullshit", but agreed to go along with the ruse. Robinson had first come into contact with Quilliam while filming a BBC documentary called 'When Tommy Met Mo'. In the documentary Robinson and Mohammed Ansar challenged each others views.

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Robinson says Quilliam paid him to on the basis it had helped him leave EDL

In hindsight Robinson opines: "I was using them, they were using me, but the bottom line from what I witnessed was that nothing truly productive was going to come out of it.

"I don't believe I'd sold my soul to them. I'd said I was going to try to be a part of the solution with them, as opposed to be part of the problem. Not everything works out the way you wished, even with the best intentions."

Later in the chapter on Quilliam Robinson gives the group who saved him "when I was in a desperate place", a serve, summing them up as "a handful of well meaning people unfortunately with little influence".

Writing in his book Robinson claims Nawaz was seen as a "apostate and a government stooge by some Muslim clerics", and noted, that the Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate for London's Hampstead and Kilburn constituency in the 2015 General Election had even been pictured getting a lap dance in a strip club.

Robinson writes: "The evidence of my eyes was that they were an organisation that was useful for the government to throw money at. It helped the politicians and establishment feel good about themselves and it fed the idea, the illusion, that they were making some kind of difference. I didn't see it, if they were."

In February 2014 Political Scrapbook reported that the Quilliam Foundation wanted taxpayer funded money to lure Robinson, and that the link-up between the unlikely allies was motivated by the groups poor financial position.

It obtained emails under the Freedom of Information Act which showed Nawaz talking to Carroll about Quilliam needing to acqire funding.

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political scarpbook

Correspondence from Quilliam about Robinson, reported by Political Scrapbook

Nawaz opened the press conference announcing Quilliam's EDL coup with a lengthy speech, drawing parallels between his formative years and Robinson's - albeit the pair were on opposing sides of Islam.

Nawaz told how an attack on him in Essex, age 16, by Neo-Nazi paramilitaries known as Combat 18, had led to him joining radical Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir, an association which later saw him jailed for six years in Egypt from December 2001.

Amnesty International, he told gathered journalists, adopted him as a "prisoner of conscious and reached out to me, which healed my heart". He continued: "And what I've said so often is where the heart leads, the mind can follow."

Nawaz then went on to say Robinson had "come to me and said he wants to reach out in a similar way".

Nawaz: "He (Robinson) wants a chance to prove to the world that he isn't happy with the association the EDL has with Neo-Nazis, neither is Kevin here to my left, and they want a chance to demonstrate they're not happy and to move forward positively."

The Quilliam founder said he chose to "invest his trust" in Robinson and Carroll, because the "alternative was to have the English Defence League still out there on the streets".

He said: "I don't know if that's an alternative many of us want, and I know many Muslims wouldn't want."

At the time Robinson said: "I have been considering this move for a long time because I recognise that, though street demonstrations have brought us to this point, they are no longer productive."

"I acknowledge the dangers of far-right extremism and the ongoing need to counter Islamist ideology not with violence but with better, democratic ideas.”

In a statement Nawaz later said: “As well as being a very positive change for the United Kingdom, this is a very proud moment for Quilliam. This represents not a change but a continuation for us, as challenging extremism of all kinds forms the basis of our work.

"We have been able to show that Britain stands together against extremism regardless of political views and hope to continue supporting Tommy and Kevin in their journey to counter Islamism and neo-Nazi extremism.”

At that time Fiyaz Mughal, the director of the anti-Islamophobia monitoring group Tell MAMA, warned about the dangers of the union: "This will legitimise the man (Robinson). His views, which are on the fringes of British society, are now being allowed to enter the mainstream. It is the most dangerous when views like this come from mainstream commentators."


Once released from jail Robinson writes that he was visited by Quilliam's senior researcher, Usama Hasan, who wanted him to get involved with the Forgiveness Project, "the cheeky bastards".

Robinson: "It was all part of their pet Tommy Robinson project." He declined the offer saying he didn't need "forgiveness".

Robinson claims Hasan later approached him "concerned at some of the things he'd seen me tweeting", and worried he was about to return to the EDL. Robinson's twitter account reads like an anti-Islam news aggregator.

Robinson writes: "In Quilliam's case they needed to be seen to have some form of control over me, to have influence over the 'reformed' Tommy Robinson." He ignored the request, but never returned to the EDL.

Robinson is however, now throwing his support behind Pegida UK and will help to "advise" the leadership of the new group, which will campaign for a moratorium on Muslim immigration to the UK, as well as place a ban on the building of mosques.

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