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Brexiteers must not stay silent on racism

by Jane Macartney | 05.07.2016

Evidence has been mounting swiftly that the vote to leave Europe has engendered an immediate rise in intolerance – of immigrants, of those perceived to be immigrants, or of those simply seen as foreign.

Complaints to the police online hate-crime reporting site True Vision have increased 500 per cent since Britons went to the polls on June 23, the National Police Chiefs Council revealed. Reported incidents reached 331 over seven days, compared with a weekly average of 63.

Some of the most egregious occurred on a Manchester tram last Tuesday when three youths hurled racist insults at Juan Jasso Jr, a US army veteran, university lecturer and British resident for 18 years. The three called him a “fxxxxxx immigrant” and told him to “get back to Africa”.

Jasso told Channel 4: “I think there was an undertone there before this Brexit … but I think the result maybe has pushed people to somehow justify that they think it’s OK now to act out in this way.”

Jasso’s point is important, and is one that others are voicing: that somehow the vote to curb immigration makes such displays of prejudice all right.

David Cameron swiftly condemned attacks on ethnic minorities as “despicable”, but the leaders of the Leave campaign should also speak up against the hate attacks. After all, their victory was largely founded on winning the votes of those who wanted the immigration controls they believed were being promised.

But Leave’s leaders have said little, if anything.

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In a recent column Boris Johnson says fears about the post-Brexit future are wildly overdone. He might like to ask the Poles who are called vermin, the Muslims who have had to cancel their celebrations for the end of Ramadan and the mother too afraid to speak French to her daughter in the supermarket about their fears.

Offered the opportunity to apologise in Tiverton to someone who was the target of racial attack, Johnson merely hemmed and hawed, cleared his throat and dived through the nearest door, forfeiting a chance to employ his undoubted charisma as a force for good.

Michael Gove has said nothing. It is high time he did. His campaign to lead the Conservative Party would be the moment to do so.

Before the referendum vote Nigel Farage most shockingly defended himself as a victim when he was roundly condemned for that disgraceful “Breaking Point” poster, unveiled on the day of the murder of MP Jo Cox. The poster may well have emboldened some to openly voice their hate.

Farage has a responsibility to throw his weight behind those who are under attack, while also trying to narrow the social divides his own campaign has opened up. Instead, he told the BBC on Sunday that he had been misinterpreted. He dismissed any link between his manifesto and violence.

Brexiteers seized on the emotive issue of immigration to win, and if they failed to foresee the consequences, they now have an opportunity to make up for this miscalculation.  They could back groups such as Hope not Hate – one of the charities supported by donations raised in memory of Jo Cox – and other anti-racist organisations around the country.

But we all have a duty here. It is not enough to be tolerant.

Cameron said this is not what we do in Britain. Indeed, we should do more to make sure that this is not what we do.

Many have stepped forward, but there should be many more even though it is not easy – the attackers are intimidating, and possibly violent. But we all have mobile phones, we can record images and we can call the police.

Cameron has announced new measures to combat the surge in hate crimes, and the police must implement them. Whoever becomes the new Prime Minister will be pushing Brexit, with a mandate to curb immigration, and it will be even more important that this is not seen as an invitation to hate.

Racism is not new in Britain – remember Enoch Powell, a Conservative MP, caused huge upset with his “Rivers of Blood” speech in the 1960s – and intolerance has clearly been simmering just below the surface in our society. Now it needs to be stamped out and, as citizens, we all have a duty to do so.

Edited by Yojana Sharma and Michael Prest

One Response to “Brexiteers must not stay silent on racism”

  • The uneducated thugs will not force us out of a country I served for half my life. My partner is a Senior Nurse from Eastern Europe, and I am a 16 year veteran of the best and toughest regiment in the British army.
    I served all over the world and have plenty of scars. I have been with my partner 5 of the 6 years that she has lived here in the UK. Only in the time since ‘Brexit’ has she experienced unbridled racism, even at work! Why did these idiotic men Farage and Johnson give a voice to the lowest common denominator…the lowest our gene pool has to offer?
    Now we are talking of moving to Australia. My partner takes over 20 years of experience in the nursing profession if we go… How does that benefit Britain?