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Racism unleashed: 'Explosion of hate' follows Brexit vote with swastika in Armagh among a spate of racist incidents across UK

Prime Minister accused of helping create the 'hostile environment' that paved the way for 'F*** off to Poland' messages, excrement through letter boxes, and racist abuse from children as young as ten

Published 29/07/2016

Racist graffiti daubed on the door of a house in the Orangefield area of Co Armagh (PSNI Armagh/PA)
Racist graffiti daubed on the door of a house in the Orangefield area of Co Armagh (PSNI Armagh/PA)

The full extent and true nature of the “blatant hate” that has beset post-Brexit vote UK is today detailed for the first time after The Independent was given exclusive access to a database of more than 500 racist incidents compiled in the weeks since the EU referendum.

The hatred that has divided UK society in the past month features “F*** off to Poland” letters in Tunbridge Wells, wealthy London diners refusing to be served by foreign waiters, dog excrement shoved through letter boxes in Rugby, and racist abuse from children as young as ten.

Above: Race hate incidents since the June 23 EU referendum

A picture of nationwide hatred emerged after The Independent was allowed exclusive access to a database of accounts collected by the social media sites PostRefRacism, Worrying Signs and iStreetWatch.

Race hate incidents that have occurred since the June 23 EU referendum

What the social media sites in their own report describe as an “explosion of blatant hate” has included:

  • Gangs prowling the streets demanding passers-by prove they can speak English
     
  • Swastikas in Armagh, Sheffield, Plymouth, Leicester, London and Glasgow
     
  • Assaults, arson attacks and dog excrement being thrown at doors or shoved through letter boxes
     
  • Toddlers being racially abused alongside their mothers, with children involved as either victims or perpetrators in 14 per cent of incidents
     
  • A man in Glasgow ripping off a girl’s headscarf and telling her “Trash like you better start obeying the white man."
     
  • Comparisons with 1930s Nazi Germany and a crowd striding through a London street chanting: “First we’ll get the Poles out, then the gays!” 

And in their own report – written with the support of the Institute of Race Relations – the three social media groups accuse the Prime Minister Theresa May of helping create the “hostile environment” that paved the way for post-referendum racism.

Criticising Ms May’s record as Home Secretary, and in particular her endorsement of advertising vans telling illegal immigrants “Go Home or face arrest”, the authors of Post-referendum racism and xenophobia say:  “If a hostile environment’ is embedded politically, it can’t be a surprise that it takes root culturally.”

Singling Ms May out as one of those who helped create such a ‘hostile environment’, the report recalls that in 2012, Ms May, the then Home Secretary, used a newspaper interview to declare: “The aim is to create here in Britain a really hostile environment for illegal migration.”

The report says: “This was brought to fruition in July 2013 when the Home Office deployed mobile advans in six London boroughs telling people to ‘GO HOME or face arrest’ in its 'Operation Vaken'.”

It adds, pointedly: “Around a quarter of the incidents recorded in our database, specifically use the words ‘Go Home’ or ‘Leave’.

“It is not unreasonable to see the Vote Leave campaign, with its central focus on immigration, as a continuation of this politically mainstream, hostile stance towards immigration and xeno-racist narratives.”

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The report’s criticism of Ms May was echoed by the shadow Home Secretary Andy Burnham, who told The Independent: “It is clear that the Government has contributed to the unwelcoming climate and that our new Prime Minister in particular is responsible .

The vans took to the streets emblazoned with the words
The vans took to the streets emblazoned with the words "go home or face arrest"

“This has been building for some time and Theresa May was blowing a dog whistle when she commissioned those ad vans. After the referendum she added to the problem by refusing to guarantee EU nationals legal status to stay in the UK.

“Her failure to do that has left children being told to go home in their school playgrounds and in the streets where they live. This Prime Minister promised to pull the country together, but her actions have done the opposite.”

He added: “This is not the Britain we have known. This is not ‘taking our country back’. It is making Britain a completely different place to the one we have known and loved.”

Already police have said that reported hate crime rose by 57 per cent in the four days following the referendum, and that 42 per cent more hate crime was reported to them in the last two weeks of June than there had been in the corresponding period of 2015. 

The database shows that since the 23 June referendum, virtually no corner of the UK has been left untouched by racism - even areas that voted strongly to stay in the EU. The database includes incidents such as a Polish doctor treating patients in a hospital in Oxford, a city where more than 70 per cent voted remain, being told to “f***ing go back to where you belong.”

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While 76 per cent of incidents were restricted to verbal abuse, 14 per cent of cases involved threatened or actual physical violence.

In Yeovil, Somerset, a Polish man was asked to prove he could speak English and then beaten to the point of suffering a potentially life-changing eye injury.

The involvement of children as victims and perpetrators was described by the authors of Post-referendum racism and xenophobia as “one of the most alarming and least expected trends”. 

A two and a half-year-old Polish girl walking with her mother through a park in Croydon, south London, was told by a 60-something grandfather: “We voted to leave so why the f*** don't you go home? None of us want you here.”

In Taunton Deane, Somerset, a 10-year-old told their German teacher: “I’m not doing what a bloody foreigner tells me to.”

Nor was the racism restricted to people who could be categorised as frustrated and socially excluded. 

In an expensive restaurant in Mayfair, London, on the day the referendum result was announced, a party of celebrating Brexiteers refused to be served by an Italian and demanded an English waiter.

An online booking for another top London restaurant included the demand: “I want British waiter please (sic). Don’t send any Europeans to my table.”

One of the most disturbing aspect of the incidents examined by The Independent involved signs that some racists saw themselves as preparing to extend their attacks to other minority groups. 

The database records a crowd walking down Drury Lane, London, chanting: “First we’ll get the Poles out, then the gays!” Reporting an attack on a Romanian lesbian in Oxford, the actress Juliet Stevenson suggested the incident showed “Strains of 1930s Nazi Germany”. 

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Priska Komaromi, the lead author of social media sites’ report, said the referendum debate and result had given some people the impression that there was no longer any shame in expressing the race hate they had long felt.

Ms Komaromi, an academic researcher who helps run the PostRefRacism twitter page, told The Independent: “The referendum result emboldened some people because it made them think that everyone agrees with them now.”

Her report also claims that elements of mainstream politics and media has for years been creating an environment that encourages racist feelings.

It states: “The rapid rise and the nature of hate crime following the referendum is an expression of the ‘hostile environment’ [that] the ‘insiders’ vs ‘outsiders’ rhetoric, increasingly prevalent in mainstream politics and the media, has fostered.

“As Liz Fekete, director of the Institute of Race Relations puts it: 'One of the things that has become clear is that the hostile environment that has been an official aim of policy for the last few years is coming home. If a ‘hostile environment’ is embedded politically, it can’t be a surprise that it takes root culturally.'”

The report adds: “While Islamophobic scaremongering was central to the Leave Campaign, it has been increasingly normalised in the mainstream media and politics in the UK since 9/11 … Zac Goldsmith’s recent controversial mayoral campaign and his attempt to paint Sadiq Khan as a ‘closet extremist’ are indicative of the patent islamophobia in mainstream politics.”

The report also accuses the Brexit campaign - which placed heavy emphasis on taking back control of immigration - of “demonising migrants” and fostering “an idea of ‘Englishness that is exclusively white and Christian, targeting anyone who is different”.

While criticising leading Brexiteers Michael Gove and Boris Johnson, it reserves its harshest comments for the ‘Breaking Point’ poster unveiled by the then Ukip leader Nigel Farage.  It calls it the most obvious example of “the de-humanisation of migrants, and particularly refugees.”

The result seems to have been that while 51 per cent of abusers specifically mentioned the EU referendum, the most commonly targeted ethnic group was in fact people of South Asian, rather than European origin.  And around one fifth of the abuse aimed at people of South Asian origin was Islamophobic.

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The post-referendum racism report comes days after the Government launched a new hate crime action plan in response to public anxiety at the hostility seen since 23 June. Launching the plan, which will include fresh guidance to the CPS and a £2.4 million fund for security at synagogues, mosques and churches, Home Secretary Amber Rudd said: “Hatred against any community, race or religion has no place whatsoever in our diverse society. We are Great Britain because we are united by values like democracy, free speech, mutual respect and opportunity for all.”

Stressing that Ms May’s measures as Home Secretary had been directed at illegal – not legal – migrants, a Home Office spokesperson said: “It is categorically untrue to say the Home Office has called for a hostile environment for immigrants. However, the British public expect us to take decisive action to prevent immigration abuse and make it harder for people to enter or live here illegally. That is why we have introduced new legislation through the Immigration Acts in 2014 and 2016.

“We are also clear that it is completely unacceptable for people to suffer abuse or attacks because of their nationality, ethnic background or colour of their skin. We will not stand for it. That is why we have launched our new Hate Crime Action Plan, setting out the robust and comprehensive steps we will take to eradicate hate crime.”

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