THE leader of Portsmouth City Council says the upcoming EU referendum is responsible for triggering fresh protests over refugees coming to Britain.
Tensions boiled over in Guildhall Square on Saturday as anti and pro-refugee groups staged rallies in a bid to get across their messages.
Dozens of police were in the square, with some officers on horseback keeping a close eye on protesters to ensure they didn’t cause trouble.
Far-right movement the Pie and Mash Squad, joined by anti-refugee demonstrators from Leicester known as ‘Leicester Casuals’, lined the steps of the Guildhall shouting and chanting.
More than 100 anti-racism and refugee supporters stood opposite with banners and flyers to counter the rally.
Tory council leader Councillor Donna Jones has been urged to condemn anti-refugee attitudes – and the motion her group brought to the council requesting the city’s duty to welcome refugees be scaled back has been blamed for stirring up trouble.
But Cllr Jones believes the EU referendum on June 23 and concerns over the UK remaining in Europe and immigration are responsible.
Cllr Jones said: ‘I believe freedom of speech is important, both for far-right and far-left campaigners who wish to express their opinions.
‘We have seen a number of protests in the past five to six months, and as long as people are respectful I have no objection to it. I don’t think the motion has anything to do with it at all. These demonstrations are happening all over the UK, and will continue up until June 23.’
But Simon Magorian, of the Stand Up To Racism movement, said: ‘We have seen a resurgence of things like the Pie and Mash Squad, through the behaviour of Donna Jones and the council.
‘Portsmouth doesn’t take its fair share of refugees. One year it was 124, and in a city with 200,000 people, that’s nothing at all.’
Anti-racist campaigner, Jon Woods, said: ‘It’s been a pretty pathetic turnout for the far-right movement. Their racism doesn’t reflect the majority of opinion in the city.’
The anti-refugee protesters refused to comment when approached by The News. Police say the protests were pre-planned and no arrests were made.