Hate crimes in post-Brexit Britain

Beginning in late June, British media started to note a troubling trend: Incidents of hate crime saw a sharp increase, following the June 23 Brexit vote to leave the European Union.

Reports from BBC News, the Guardian, the Independent, Sky News and the Local all shared similar headlines of rising hate crimes.

In an interview with the Guardian, Mark Hamilton of the National Police Chiefs’ Council attributed the recent increase in reported hate crimes to the Brexit vote. The Guardian also reported a 42 percent increase in hate crimes during the two weeks surrounding the vote.

Similar headlines appeared in British and European media from the final week of June into early July. Examples include an article from BBC News titled “Polish family’s Plymouth home damaged in ‘race hate arson attack’,” the Local’s July 4 headline which read “Spaniards report xenophobic attacks after Brexit vote” and a story from Sky News called “Hate Crime In London Up 50 Percent Since Brexit Vote.”

Repercussions of Brexit have already been observed in the academic world. President Michael Arthur of the University of Central London explained in a July 11 Guardian column that there have already been three instances of UCL principal researchers being removed from European teams. Arthur attributed the dismissals to the fear that critical funding will be harder to win with team members from outside the EU.

German Portland State student Christine Vigeant shared a common opinion held among Europeans following Brexit—a general consensus among Germans is that the UK has always had “one foot in” the European Union; she pointed to the UK’s decision to continue using the British Pound after joining the EU.

“In conversations with my German friends I think there is a lot of resentment,” Vigeant said. “A lot of the leave campaign was on immigration. I think the Germans feel a bit resentful that we are taking a lot of refugees, and other countries are [saying], ‘eh.’”

Vigeant also stated that the younger generations voting more heavily for “remain” shows a cultural divide between generations. The younger voters have grown up as part of Europe; they see the value in standing with their neighbors to tackle larger issues more effectively and to enable more open trade and travel.

“These are the people who see themselves as Europeans,” Vigeant said.

Ultimately, the older generation who grew up without the same opportunities brought the stronger vote and invoked the decision to leave.

In the subreddit AskEurope on social news networking website Reddit, users mostly echoed Vigeant’s opinion of the vote to leave. French Redditor Lyanina shared two different perspectives on the future of the UK.

“I do feel resentful, maybe even a little hurt, but I’d still travel there,” Lyanina wrote. “My mother, though, has been reading what the media has to say about the racist and xenophobic incidents since Brexit, and her view is: ‘If they’re going to insult their tourists, fine, I’ll spend my money elsewhere.'”

The current culture eluded in another comment has many of those interviewed feeling anxious.

“If I had to work outside of Denmark, the UK would probably be on the bottom of the [list], but it has always been like that, and it is more a question [of] culture than politics,” said Danish Redditor TonyGaze.

Pressure is now on the new prime minister, Theresa May, to reach a solution through the referendum that represents the opinion of the entire UK and build positive relationships with EU nations. According to the Telegraph, May plans to hold any work on the referendum until a united “UK approach” can be reached which includes support from Scotland.

But what do UK citizens have to say about these reports of UK-based hate crime and voter backlash following the vote to leave?

“I think 99.99 [percent] is the same and 0.01 [percent] gets a lot of publicity,” said Redditor tmstms. “However, even one incident of this kind is unacceptable, not least because it upsets all people of the ethnic or national group that suffers the incident.”

Many commenters echoed the sentiment shared by tmstms. Others argued that these crimes are being perpetrated by few residents, but the media response is misconstruing the frequency of incidents.

In the United States, similar xenophobic and racist sentiments have called attention to civil rights issues as an increasing number of racially motivated crimes and incidents have occurred. These occurrences in the U.S. may show that people are more willing to display feelings that were previously hidden.

In the UK, the perception is that the increase in crime does not represent new ideas, but rather the approval of these ideas as popular opinion based on the vote to leave.

The biggest factor in determining whether or not the increasing trend in reported hate crimes and xenophobic sentiments perpetuates will be the response of the majority of citizens in the UK. If a culture of hate is allowed a foothold in a post-Brexit Britain, it will only continue to damage the country’s reputation among the European nations.