Tommy Robinson and Kevin Carroll, the leaders of the English Defence League (EDL), have announced they are leaving the organisation because it contains too many far-right extremists.
The pair, who set up the anti-Islamist group in 2009, said they wanted to focus on democratic ideas rather than violence to achieve their aims.
The EDL was launched in Luton to counter demonstrations held by Muslim extremists as soldiers marched through the town after returning from tours of duty.
It grew rapidly and hit the headlines with a series of high profile street demonstrations across the country, which often ended in violence as its members clashed with opponents from groups such as Unite Against Fascism.
Its members were largely drawn from white working class communities and there were claims that many of those involved were football hooligans attracted by the possibility of violence.
Mr Robinson, whose real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, has been arrested on several occasions in connection with his attendance at EDL rallies.
But in a statement issued by the anti-extremism think tank Quilliam, it was announced that Mr Robinson and his co-founder Me Carroll, were turning their backs on the group.
The statement said: “I have been considering this move for a long time because I recognise that, though street demonstrations have brought us to this point, they are no longer productive.
“I acknowledge the dangers of far-right extremism and the ongoing need to counter Islamist ideology not with violence but with better, democratic ideas.”
Mr Robinson urged members of the EDL to follow his lead and focus their energy on more peaceful forms of protest.
The chairman and co-founder of Quilliam, Maajid Nawaz, described it as a “positive change for the United Kingdom” and said it could help reduce both far-right extremism and Islamism.
He said: “This represents not a change but a continuation for us, as challenging extremism of all kinds forms the basis of our work.
“We have been able to show that Britain stands together against extremism regardless of political views and hope to continue supporting Tommy and Kevin in their journey to counter Islamism and neo-Nazi extremism.”
But Mohammed Shafiq, chief executive of the Ramadhan Foundation, urged caution over the announcement.
He said: “I met Tommy Robinson last week and during that meeting he indicated that he was leaving the EDL because he couldn’t control the extremist group, impact on his family and wider legal cases he faces.
“At no stage did he reject his previous disgusting attacks on Islam and Muslims or apologise to the British people for the millions wasted policing their protests.
“I cannot take Tommy Robinson or Kevin Carroll’s announcement seriously until they reject their fascist views on Islam and Muslims and would caution other organisations celebrating this announcement as a massive personal achievement.
“The EDL has been exposed for its racism, Islamaphobia and fascism and them leaving a sinking ship suggests the battle is being won.
“Muslims will not rest until the fascists are defeated and we as a community confront the issues of terrorism, child grooming and forced marriages”
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