Retailers are bracing themselves as thousands of English Defence League protesters are expected to converge on Birmingham city centre this week.
Supporters of the English Defence League (EDL) are planning to stage a static protest in Centenary Square, on Saturday (July 20) while opposition group Unite Against Fascism holds a simultaneous counter demonstration in Chamberlain Square.
The upheaval is an unwelcome addition to the woes of struggling shops, with many warned they will have to roll up their shutters for part of the busiest days of the shopping week.
West Midlands Police – which is set to dispatch more than 1,000 officers on the day – has been working with shopkeepers to keep them informed.
David Johnson, owner of jeweller Rex Johnson and Sons in Corporation Street, said: “We have been told that we might be putting our shutters down for part of the morning or afternoon.
“We have really got to play it by ear, but if you are told to put your shutters down you do it.”
He added: “I don’t know why they always end up allowing them to protest on the best day of the week. It is always in the middle of our best day, and it means the public are unlikely to come in in the morning and after the protest the day is completely and utterly useless to both the retailer and the public.”
EDL protests in Tipton and Walsall earlier this year resulted in several arrests after violence erupted.
However, ahead of the Birmingham protest officers from police forces across the country including Staffordshire, West Mercia and Warwickshire, have been drafted in to help West Midlands Police control the demonstration.
The police and Birmingham City Council say the central venues have been identified to assist with a carefully planned police and council operation.
Simon Jenner, founder of Urban Coffee Company, on Church Street, said city centre hospitality venues would take a “pragmatic approach” to the weekend.
He said: “We ended up celebrating our second birthday during the riots in August 2011 and found a sense of ‘Blitz spirit’ amongst our customers. Despite the threat of disturbance back then, they refused to be intimidated and came out into the city centre nevertheless to keep calm and carry on.”
He added: “We’ll certainly be open for business as usual. We may see a slight drop in trade, but overall we reckon our customers won’t be phased by the prospect of protest. We will obviously liaise with the fantastic city centre policing team who do great work within the Colmore Business District all year round to help keep the area safe and secure, and of course hope common sense and cool heads prevail this weekend.”
Last month it emerged that it had cost the cash-strapped force £260,000 to police three demonstrations in the region.
Assistant chief constable Sharon Rowe, the chief officer in overall command of the operation, said she recognised that people felt anxious after similar protests in Walsall and Tipton, and that the police would sooner be tackling local issues.
However, she added: “We have a duty to facilitate people’s right to protest, so long as it is peaceful, regardless of whether the group’s views are supported by the majority or not.
“West Midlands Police and Birmingham City Council do not have the power to ban static protests such as these – the right to protest peacefully is a sign of a healthy democracy and we have a duty to facilitate that right.
“We will have more than 1,000 officers on duty to ensure that the people who live, work, shop or visit Birmingham feel reassured and can go about their daily business in safety.”