The Archbishop of Canterbury has urged leaders of far-right group Britain First to abandon its plans for a march through Luton on June 27, telling them that “confrontation gets you nowhere”.
As part of a visit to the town this morning the Most Reverend Justin Welby stopped off at St Mary’s Church and spoke with church leaders who met with Britain First chairman Paul Golding and deputy Jayda Fransen a fortnight ago.
Following the meeting the Britain First pair made an unannounced visit to Bury Park, where they claim they suffered ‘abuse and violence’ from men on the streets.
Footage of the driveby shows Paul Golding shouting “This is our country, why don’t you go back to your own country?” to one man and “Go back to the desert” to another.
Golding and Fransen are also seen holding Christian crosses and a banner which reads “Britain First No More Mosques” outside Bury Park Jamie Masjid.
Church leaders and the Luton Council of Faiths denounced the footage and renewed calls for Britain First to drop its plans to demonstrate.
Speaking to the Luton News this morning, the Archbishop backed the approach taken by local faith leaders.
He said: “I support very strongly the letter that has been written by church leaders here, a very significant number of church leaders,
“It is gracious but a clear challenge to the leaders of Britain First to do things through dialogue and not confrontation.
“It is gracious, courteous, polite and invites them to talk.
“I hope that they will take that up and make the most of that opportunity.
“Confrontation gets you nowhere and Luton shows that very clearly, the church leaders have made a very clear stand on this.”
The Archbishop also welcomed work between church and mosque leaders in the town.
He said: “There is a very strong history here of intelligent, thoughtful work between faith leaders.
“When you see the churches here they are quite clear that they are proclaiming Jesus Christ but with hospitality, generosity and welcome and building relationships rather than any kind of aggression.”
During his visit to Luton this morning the Most Reverend was taken through The Mall to meet shoppers and traders in the market.
He briefly stopped outside the Luton Town FC club shop to ask a colleague how the Hatters have been faring.
The Archbishop was told “they are hoping for promotion this year”.
After chatting with a number of workers he moved onto the Town Hall, where a private reception was held with the council and community guests.
During the ceremony the Most Reverend added his name to a list of signatories on an open letter denouncing Britain First’s “harmful and divisive” rhetoric.