Brexit has dominated news stories across the world since June 2016, when 51.9% of the country voted for the UK to leave the European Union. Since then, the process has been chaotic, with the timeline of the leave agreement continuously growing, and the date to leave continuously changing. In this time, an alarming trend has been growing and manifesting itself under the surface; since June 2016 there has been an increase in racism and hate crimes. Or you could potentially switch it around and say: During this time, there has been an increase in racism and crimes. Can Brexit be hiding this alarming trend that has been growing and manifesting?
A nationwide survey by Opinium found a stark increase in the levels of racism or discrimination, ethnic minorities faced between January 2016 and February 2019. In January 2016, around 36% of participants said they experienced or witnessed racist comments that were made to sound like a joke; in 2019 this had increased to around 55%. In January 2016, around 28% of participants experienced or witnessed racism on social media; by February 2019 this had increased to around 51%. Similarly, in the same time period ‘ranting or commenting negatively about immigration had increased from around 34% to about 51%, and racism in the press had jumped from around 25% to 40%. In just three years this represents quite a big increase, which can be a worrying factor in British society. In fact the same study revealed that seven out of 10 people from ethnic minorities in the UK believe racist beliefs and discrimination are widespread. With the UK having a very diverse society in terms of nationalities, this represents the possibility of a very fractured society within the UK. In 2018, 85.7% of the population were UK- born, and with the estimated population of the UK in mid 2018 being 66.4 million we can estimate that there were around 9.6 million people who were either immigrants or who had different cultural backgrounds and may have emigrated to the UK when young. London, the capital city of England, is one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the world, with approximately one third of Londoners being foreign-born, and over 200 languages being spoken in the city. Figures like this only demonstrate how many people could be affected by an increase in racism.
Crime figures certainly show that this survey has some truth to it. Every year since 2012, hate crimes have increased in the UK, ranging from 44,225 in 2012 and 2013 to 94,098 in 2017 and 2018. From 2015, (The year in which the European referendum act was passed in parliament, enabling a referendum to take place) the total number of offences per year increased dramatically in comparison to the rate of increase in previous years. While it is difficult to place the blame solely on Brexit, it does suggest that this could have acted as a catalyst. Other events could also have an effect. For example 2016 was also the year Donald Trump became president of the United States, and as some racially charged comments made by him were well publicized this could have also had an effect on an increase in these numbers. This is because Trump’s campaign effort was well publicised in the UK , and as such many of his comments were well known to British audiences. This again allowed racist and discriminatory rhetoric to become normalised and mainstreamed.
An increase in hate crimes and racism in the UK was not only noticed by domestic audiences. In fact the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination stated that British Politicans helped fuel an increase in racism and hate crimes during and after the EU referendum campaign. It stated that it was worried by divisive, anti-immigrant and xenophobic rhetoric throughout the campaign. This would have no doubt been aimed at politicians such as Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson who were front and centre of the leave campaign.
However, it is seemingly not only a British issue. Looking at other European states; for example, in Russia, the amount of convicts due to extremism from 2013 to 2018 increased by 2.2 times. In addition, between 2006 and 2011, Anti-Semitism increased significantly in Hungary, while in 2017, 59% of French people did not want migrants in their country. Lastly, since 2014, there has been a huge increase in Neo-Nazi groups in Ukraine. Also across Europe there has been a rise in Nationalism in recent years with many far-right parties getting elected into governments across Europe. Europe is a very culturally diverse place, however, one correlation throughout is the amount of far-right parties getting into government. In 2017, the far-right Alternative for Germany entered the federal parliament for the first time. Additionally this year in Spain far-right Vox entered into parliament for the first time, and in 2017 a far-right party came to power in Austria. This shows this is a European trend and not solely a British one. Therefore, while Brexit has undoubtedly had an effect on the rise of hate crimes and dsicrimination, it cannot be the sole blame as this trend repeats itself throughout Europe where an EU exit has not taken place.
There are certain events that are perhaps triggers for this rise in racism and anti-immigrant sentiment, which in turn have potentially led to an increase in hate crimes and racial abuse. One such event would be the refugee crisis beginning in 2015. This was when many immigrants arrived to the EU from across the Mediterranean Sea or from South East Europe. Most refugees were fleeing war torn states, such as Syria and Afghanistan. Critics to this though argued that their states national identity was at risk, as well as refugees being an economic burden and a security risk. On rare occasions refugees have been undercover Daesh militants looking to enter Europe. This certainly had an effect in Nationalism increasing in European states, and far-right parties gaining more power in government, on the premise that they would reduce immigration and maintain their states national identity.
Furthermore, an increase in terror attacks in the West has also correlated with an increase in hostility towards Muslims and other ethnic minority groups. This arguably started with 9/11, with a huge increase in hostility towards Muslims in Europe taking place the year after the attack. With horrific attacks taking place in European cities such as Paris, London, Brussels, and Berlin in recent years, it can be expected that this hostility would have only grown due to fear. It is this fear that far-right parties can tap into in order to gain support for their extreme ideas, and to shape a country in an image that appeals to them. In doing this, extreme views and racism have been able to become more mainstream. This is demonstrated in the sheer amount of far right parties now holding power in governments across Europe.
Has Brexit caused an increase in hate crimes and racism in the UK? The answer would appear to be yes. Brexit however, is not the root cause of hate crimes and racism in the UK. UK, and indeed European society, has been able to become fractured and divided out of fear due to the last two decades of war and terrorism. This, in turn, has allowed nationalism and racism to grow with it. Unfortunately, this has resulted in some people perceiving hate crimes to be justified. You cannot solely blame Brexit, because this trend began a long time before Brexit was even seriously discussed. It is important to note that many people who support Brexit are not racists, and indeed voted for it for different reasons such as bureaucracy or self sustainability. Ultimately people filled with hatred and violence will commit hate crimes regardless as to whether Brexit existed or not. I think it is fair to say though that to some people, Brexit has justified their extreme views, and allowed them to become more open with their views.
Here at CTG we can contribute to a safer and more equal society by monitoring the internet and trying to spot any people who are expressing extreme views and/or plots to use violence. In doing this we can reduce the amount of hate crimes taking place in the UK, Europe, and the rest of the world. What is clear however, is this growth in racism and hate crimes across the UK and Europe represent a systemic problem, and one that needs to be addressed, perhaps through education and a better understanding of other cultures. Here at CTG we can help with the security side of the spectrum, and then it is up to governments and educational institutes to cover the other side of the spectrum; educational and rehabilitation.
Here in the Crime team specifically, we are in constant communication with different regional teams. In doing this, we are able to prevent crimes from taking place before they happen. Most criminals and extremists do not become what they are overnight. It is a process, and many opinions are voiced online. This enables us to notice the warning signs and intervene before the crime takes place. We will continue to do this as long as there are threats.
1. “English Defence League protest in Newcastle” by lionheartphotography licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic
2. Racism rising since Brexit vote, nationwide study reveals, The Guardian, May 20, 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/may/20/racism-on-the-rise-since-brexit-vote-nationwide-study-reveals
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