The leader of the English Defence League, Tommy Robinson, has announced he is leaving the organisation because it has become too extreme.
Robinson, who leads anti-Islam protests that have often turned violent and have been marked by racist chanting, said Islamist ideology should be challenged "not with violence but with better, democratic ideas".
Robinson, who set up the EDL in 2009 ostensibly to combat extreme Islamism in the UK, is facing criminal charges in relation to his activities with the group.
The 30-year-old from Luton, whose real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, 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."
His decision was announced in a press release from the counter-extremism thinktank the Quilliam Foundation, which said it had "facilitated" Robinson's departure and that of the EDL co-founder. Kevin Carroll, also from Luton.
The intentions of the pair are likely to come under intense scrutiny given their past activities. Muslim and anti-facist groups gave a cautious welcome to the news but there was a sense among some that Robinson would have to go further to make up for the harm they said he had inflicted on community relations over recent years.
Robinson and Carroll are due to stand trial on 16 October for allegedly attempting to defy a ban on marching to the scene of soldier Lee Rigby's killing, in June.
There was a mixed reaction to Robinson's announcement from EDL supporters. Some accused him of selling out but others praised him. Robinson tweeted on Tuesday: "The most difficult day of my life! I thank Edl supporters for their messages of support. For me this is a step forwards not backwards."
His personal assistant, Helen Gower, told IBTimes UK that Robinson and Carroll would be forming a new group that was not street-based.
Mohammed Shafiq, chief executive of the Ramadhan Foundation, said he had met Robinson last week. "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," Shafiq said. "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."
Weyman Bennett, joint secretary of Unite Against Facism, described the news as a victory for groups that had held counter-demonstrations against the EDL. "I believe the real truth of it is that the EDL is in a lot of trouble but the politics espoused by Tommy Robinson has not gone away," he said.
Nick Lowles, director of the Hope Not Hate campaign, gave a cautious welcome to the announcement but said what was needed was "a complete renunciation of the violence and hatred the EDL leaders have promoted, and a turning away from the anti-Muslim rhetoric they have championed".
Matthew Feldman, of Teesside University's centre for fascist, anti-fascist and post-fascist studies, said Robinson and Carroll should be commended. He said it was difficult to predict what would happen to the group without them at the helm.
"The first test is Bradford [where a demonstration is planned on Saturday]. Is there going to be a small turnout? Does it formalise? Does it fold? Does it merge into something else? This might lead to different elements battling each other for the leadership," said Feldman.
Quilliam is better known for its work combating Islamic extremism but it has faced criticism in the past for accusing peaceful Muslim groups of sharing the ideology of terrorists.
Quilliam's chair and co-founder, Maajid Nawaz, said: "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.".