ISD’s Head of Communications and Editorial, Tim Squirrell, and Head of Policy & Research, Milo Comerford, spoke to Euronews about the response of the far-right to census data indicating that Christianity is no longer the majority religion in the UK.
In the most recent census, conducted in 2021, 46.2% of the population identified themselves as Christian, compared with 59.3% in the previous census, a decade earlier.
Far-right actors have responded to this data, which also indicates a rise in the proportion of the population identifying as Muslim to just over 6%, with rhetoric about the ‘Great Replacement‘ and ‘White Genocide’. These conspiracy theories claim that white European populations are being ‘replaced’ by non-white populations, especially Muslims, with the aim of breaking down Western European societies.
While the ‘Great Replacement’ has become part of mainstream media discourse in the US, where it has been watered down and renamed ‘replacement theory’ to strip out the overtly conspiratorial elements, this has not so far happened in the UK. Milo told Euronews, “the manifestation of Christian identity is not particularly politicised in the way that Evangelical Christianity is in the US.” While mainstream politicians and parties in the UK do not tend to espouse the kind of politicised Christianity and Great Replacement rhetoric favoured by some in the US, both of these trends have grown in far-right groups in recent years.
In contrast with a lot of disinformation narratives used by extremist groups, the census data comes from the authoritative Office for National Statistics. Pulling from sources like this and then twisting the data to fit an extreme narrative or conspiracy theory is, as Milo explained, known by some as ‘malinformation’. The aim of using these kinds of sources is to lend credence to attempts to spin a political narrative.