Politicians’ “divisive, anti-immigrant and xenophobic” EU referendum rhetoric helped cause the hate crime spike after the Brexit vote, a UN body has said.
The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination said in its report that politicians “not only failed to condemn it but also created and entrenched prejudices” during the “passionate” fight over whether Britain should leave the EU.
The campaign culminated in Britain voting for Brexit on June 23 and stoked “racism and xenophobia”, the report said.
Between June 16 and 30, 3,198 hate crimes were reported, 42% more than were reported in the same period in 2015.
The highest number of hate crimes was reported on June 25, the day after the result was declared, when 289 reports were made.
In Cambridgeshire, cards saying “no more Polish vermin” were distributed outside schools and homes in the days after the referendum result.
The report said: “The committee is seriously concerned at the sharp increase in the number of racist hate crimes especially in England, Wales and Northern Ireland in the weeks prior to and following the referendum on the membership of the European Union.
“In particular, the committee is deeply concerned that the referendum campaign was marked by divisive, anti-immigrant and xenophobic rhetoric, and that many politicians and prominent political figures not only failed to condemn it, but also created and entrenched prejudices, thereby emboldening individuals to carry out acts of intimidation and hate towards ethnic or ethno-religious minority communities and people who are visibly different.”
The UN report also said that the likely underreporting of hate crime meant “a large number” of the offences were unpunished.
It added: “The committee remains concerned that despite the recent increase in the reporting of hate crimes, the problem of underreporting persists, and the gap between reported cases and successful prosecution remains significant.
“As a result, a large number of racist hate crimes seem to go unpunished.”
Rhetoric during the campaign was inflammatory at times.
Then-Ukip leader Nigel Farage unveiled his infamous “Breaking Point” poster showing a column of refugees trying to enter the EU. It was reported to police and even fellow Leave campaigner Michael Gove said he “shuddered” at the sight of it.
The UN report also expressed reservations about the Government’s plan to scrap the Human Rights Act and replace it with a British Bill of Rights - a policy which was reaffirmed by Justice Secretary Liz Truss on Monday.
David Isaac, chair of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, said: “There are concerns that the acrimonious and divisive manner in which the referendum debate was conducted exacerbated worrying divisions in British society, and has been used by a minority to legitimise race hate.”
He added: “Political parties need to come together and show leadership, working with the relevant crime prevention agencies.”
Martha Spurrier, the new director of civil rights campaigners Liberty, previously told HuffPost UK she believed the rhetoric and policies during Theresa May’s time as home secretary contributed to the hate crime surge.
In an interview in July, she said: “Over the last five years, the Tory government have openly said that they would create a hostile environment for immigrants. Their own language, their own policy is called ‘hostile environment’. They make no bones about it.
“Yet, when they see it pay off in a rise in hate crime, they then say: ‘What they really don’t want is this hostile environment’. The language is really telling. You reap what you sow. Calling it a ‘hostile environment’ says to people ‘you can play a part in that too’.”