Politicians must end the 'race to the bottom' on immigration
This week, the Home Affairs Select Committee is examining the spike in hate crime following last year’s EU Referendum. The committee, chaired by former home secretary Yvette Cooper MP, will look into both racially and religiously aggravated offences.
It takes place at a particularly timely point. New analysis release last week confirmed what previous analyses has suggested and showed that a majority of police forces in England and Wales saw recorded levels of hate crimes in the first full three months following the EU referendum.
More than 14,000 hate crimes were recorded between July and September last year.
In the three months up to September 2016, 33 of the 44 forces in England and Wales saw their highest levels of hate crimes since comparable records began in 2012.
Shockingly, in ten forces the number of suspected hate crimes increased by more than 50 per cent, compared to the previous three months.
Underestimating the problem
We need to be realistic that these figures probably under-estimate the problem. Bernard Hogan-Howe from the London Met summed it up in evidence to City Hall last year,
“We think [hate crime is massively under-reported [crime.] Sadly, people don’t tell us about the harassment and the abuse that we know will go on out there.”
I have dealt with dealt with such cases in my constituency and I have myself been subjected to a torrent of online racist abuse, not all of which has been reported.
Police say their own monitoring suggests incidents have levelled out after the summer’s spike but this is without doubt a timely reminder that we need accurate and respectful discussion, and politicians need to stop the ‘race to the bottom’ when it comes to discussing migrants and immigration.
In November last year, the Equality and Human Rights Commission expressed grave concern about hate crime attacks since the EU Referendum vote. The reality is the vote for Brexit in the EU Referendum was sold on the back of a hostile climate around immigration.
Responding to the new analysis last week, David Isaac, chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, warned that as the Brexit process continues, it would be advisable to ‘prepare for any possible spikes during the Brexit process’. He added that “The triggering of Article 50 is the next major milestone and we must do all we can to discourage hate attacks and to support people who feel at risk.”
It was welcome that cabinet minister Damian Green is on the record as saying that political debate in the UK is currently too abusive, yet now members of his government must do more in this regard.
The Government’s own policies and rhetoric — both currently and over a number of years — have responsibility in this area. From go home vans, to demonising international students, to talking about a foreigner-free NHS this is a government whose policies are contributing to a climate of hate and fear.
Immigration will be a dominant issue in the debate on where Britain goes post-Brexit and a more hostile climate will impact on all communities, not only those from in the EU and Eastern Europe. The ‘Trump factor’ also adds to these feelings of division and fear.
For example, we also saw a rise in Islamophobic attacks last summer, in the same year that we have seen Orthodox Jewish Communities targeted by the far right.
Internationally, the climate of scapegoating in an economically turbulent world is finding a platform in Donald Trump and in countries such as France the far-right is on the march.
In response to this, Labour must stand up against scapegoating — for both people’s rights and for a fair approach to immigration to the benefit of our economy and society.
Diane Abbott is the Shadow Home Secretary
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