Laurence Fox holds rally in Batley town centre - despite being banned by the council

Actor-turned-political activist Laurence Fox was told he couldn’t hold a rally in a Yorkshire town centre - but did it anyway.

Laurence Fox in Batley

The leader of the Reclaim Party was told his rally on “free speech, tolerance and the Batley Grammar School situation” in Market Place, Batley, – which is council-owned land – could not go ahead.

Nonetheless he was defiant, writing on his party’s social media page: “Kirklees’ Labour council attempting to stop a public meeting to discuss tolerance and freedom of speech in the middle of a by election is an affront to democracy. Needless to say the meeting will go ahead as planned at 5.45pm today (Jun 24)."

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A spokesman for Kirklees Council said it had taken the decision on the grounds of public safety and potential disruption.

The authority also said organisers of the rally had not sought permission to use the space.

Announcing his intentions on Twitter in advance of the Batley and Spen by-election on July 1 Mr Fox said invitations had been extended to Labour’s Kim Leadbeater and the Conservatives’ Ryan Stephenson.

He said Workers Party candidate George Galloway would also be speaking, adding: “We look forward to the broadest, most positive and most constructive debate.”

The ban was announced just hours before the rally was due to begin.

A spokesman said: “The council welcomes healthy debate and respects freedom of speech. We also have a responsibility to make sure all events we permit on our land are safe, well organised and take into account potential disruption to local residents and businesses.

“That’s why we ask organisers – in advance of an event – to provide details of their plans, how they have assessed potential risks and how we can work together to make sure their event goes smoothly for everyone.

“This is a common sense approach and is standard practice across local authorities. In this case, the event organisers have not requested permission for the use of the council’s land.

“In the absence of assurances on public safety and legal compliance with Covid requirements or the impact on residents and businesses, council staff had no choice but to notify the organiser that they did not have permission to use the council’s assets.”