Increase in racist attacks as a result of ‘anti-foreigner’ Brexit debate
The Brexit debate has led to increasing ‘anti foreigner sentiment’ and in a rise in racist attacks, according to a study from a Strasbourg-based group that monitors hate crime. The European commission against racism and intolerance (Ecri), which is part of the Council of Europe, reports there were 52,528 hate crimes recorded by the police last year with more than eight out of 10 (82%) relating to race. This represented an 18% increase on the previous year with the largest increase in relation to religious hate crime (43%).
It was ‘no coincidence’ that racist attacks were on the rise at the same time there were ‘worrying examples of intolerance and hate speech’ in the press and among politicians, commented Ecri chair Christian Ahlund.
‘The Brexit referendum seems to have led to a further rise in “anti-foreigner” sentiment, making it even more important that the British authorities take the steps outlined in our report as a matter of priority.’
Christian Ahlund, Ecri chair
Ecri reported a high number of violent racist incidents in the immediate wake of the murder of the British soldier Lee Rigby in May 2013, including a sharp rise in anti-Muslim violence and record levels of anti-Semitic incidents the following year.
The group were concerned that racially-motivated aspects of cases were being ‘filtered out’ by the police, Crown Prosecution Service and judiciary through ‘a combination of unwillingness to recognise racist motivation, the reclassifying of racist attacks as disputes or other forms of hostility, and the over-strict interpretation of the provisions on racist motivation’.
Ecri looked the context of ‘considerable intolerant political discourse’ in the media and in political discourse. ‘Terms such as “invasions” and “floods” were frequently used as well as the expression “benefits tourism”, despite a 2013 European Commission study finding no evidence that the main motivation of EU citizens to migrate was benefit-related,’ it noted. The study quoted UKIP’s Nigel Farage warning of ‘rising public concern about immigration partly because people believe there are some Muslims who want to form a fifth column and kill us’; and David Cameron, launching a language fund to enable Muslim women to learn English earlier in the year, talking about ‘backward attitudes’.
Peter Bone, the MP for Wellingborough, dismissed the study as ‘a slur on the British public’. ‘The left-wing organisations that produce these reports have no idea, they are talking out of their hat.’
‘When will the establishment learn? This is one of the reasons why they lost in the referendum, dismissing ordinary, hard-working people’s concerns as intolerant and xenophobic is patronising and offensive.’
Steven Woolfe, Ukip MEP
Ecri, noting the work of an official helpline for victims of Islamophobia, Tell MAMA (Measuring Anti-Muslim Attacks), reported that on-line hate speech targeting Muslims had ‘soared’ since 2013. The service reported 548 Islamophobic incidents and a 373% increase in the week after Lee Rigby’s murder.
The group yesterday reported that they were denied access to their own fringe event at the Conservative conference on the theme of anti-Muslim hatred, after being threatened with violence by G4S security and a gay member of staff subjected to homophobic abuse. ‘Our work forms a central plank of the hate crime strategy of this Government,’ the group said. ‘Yesterday, if we can be honest, it seemed that the very dignity of victims that we try and preserve through our work, was stripped from our staff.’
Jon is editor of the Justice Gap. He is a freelance journalist. Jon's books include The First Miscarriage of Justice (Waterside Press, 2014), The Justice Gap (LAG, 2009) and People Power (Daily Telegraph/LawPack, 2008). Jon is a journalism lecturer at Winchester University and a visiting senior fellow in access to justice at the University of Lincoln. He is twice winner of the Bar Council's journalism award (2015 and 2005) and is shortlisted for this year's Criminal Justice Alliance's journalism award