Campaigners in the dock amid ‘surge’ in racism

Tribute: One well-wisher in Hammersmith thanked Poles for their wartime sacrifice. © Sarah Lee

There has been a rise in reported racist abuse and intimidation since the UK voted to leave the EU. Some blame campaigners, especially on the Leave side, for stirring tensions. Is this fair?

Smashed windows at Spanish and Turkish restaurants in London. A petrol bombing at a halal butcher in Walsall. A Polish centre in Hammersmith being daubed with graffiti reading: ‘Go home’.

These have all happened in the last week. The National Police Chiefs’ Council says there was a 57% increase in reported racist abuse after the EU referendum. Eastern Europeans, Muslims, black people and other minorities were targeted.

Polish families in Huntingdon received notes saying: ‘Leave the EU — no more Polish vermin’. A group of teenagers on a Manchester tram shouted at a passenger: ‘Get off the tram now. You dirty little immigrant, get back to Africa’.

Now some are blaming Leave campaigners for stirring anti-migrant passions. ‘None of this is coincidental,’ wrote Guardian columnist Aditya Chakrabortty. ‘It happens when cabinet ministers, party leaders and prime ministerial wannabes sprinkle arguments with racist poison.’

Official campaigners have been condemned for focusing heavily on immigration, as they repeatedly argued Brexit would help to control the UK’s borders. Chakrabortty has criticised their message on Turkish EU membership. And UKIP leader Nigel Farage was attacked for using a queue of migrants — many of them refugees — in a campaign poster.

One poll now says migration was the second most important reason people voted Leave. And Spectator columnist Nick Cohen says Leavers’ contradictory policies may create a ‘stab in the back’ myth and fuel support for the far right.

There have been many positive responses against the racism. In Hammersmith, well-wishers sent flowers; in Llanelli, residents left a touching note at the Welsh Polish Association.

Some Remain supporters and left-wingers have also been abusive since the vote. A poster at an anti-Brexit rally read: ‘old white people, please die’. A Jeremy Corbyn supporter posed in a T-shirt reading: ‘Eradicate the right wing Blairite vermin’. UKIP says threats against Farage have intensified.

Are campaigners to blame for this?

Race to the bottom

Yes, say some. Referendum campaigners, particularly on the Leave side, have just spent four months talking relentlessly about immigration and making promises to reduce it. They have created a febrile atmosphere and emboldened far right groups who wish to set people against one another. They should be ashamed of themselves.

No, say others. Migration featured heavily because voters worried about its consequences for the economy, society, security and national identity. Campaigners discussed these sensitive issues responsibly. Racists will always exist on society’s fringes and are responsible for themselves. This week’s incidents do not reflect the UK’s character.

You Decide

  1. Have you encountered any racism since the EU referendum result?
  2. Do campaigners bear any responsibility for the increase in racist incidents?


  1. ‘Racists are entirely responsible for their own behaviour.’ Write a paragraph explaining why you agree or disagree with this statement.
  2. Research a racial hate crime (such as one of those mentioned in this article) and write a 500-word newspaper report explaining what happened.

Some People Say...

“Politicians have a duty to speak responsibly.”

What do you think?

Q & A

I haven’t been the victim of racism. Should I be concerned?
The behaviour described in this article affects us all. Even if you are not a target, it says a lot about some of the people you share a society with. People you know could also be the victims of it. The key questions here are how far it is the responsibility of the perpetrator and how best we can prevent it happening.
I’ve suffered racist abuse. What can I do about it?
The most important thing is not to suffer in silence. Tell someone — even if it is only someone you trust, like a friend, a teacher or a member of your family. If things get really bad while you are outside school and you witness — or are the victim of — a hate crime, you can report it to the True Vision police website:

Word Watch

There were 85 reports to a police website between Thursday and Sunday — 57% more than the same period the week before.
These came with a Polish translation.
Chakrabortty says this was ‘code for 80m Muslims entering Christendom’.
The UKIP leader was not a member of the official Vote Leave campaign, but did call for a Leave vote.
The poster showed a line of migrants entering Slovenia, emblazoned with the words: ‘Breaking point’.
Cohen argues Leavers will be unable to both cut immigration and grow the economy.
Stab in the back
The Nazis used this phrase when claiming socialists and Jews had undermined the German army in the first world war. The USSR also used it to persecute those suspected of supporting the west. Both were untrue — but Cohen says far right elements may now use it to blame the Leave campaign’s leaders for failing to cut migration.
The note said: ‘Thanks for being here then... still glad you’re here now’ — with a photo of Polish airmen during the second world war.
She was at a pro-Corbyn rally on Monday.

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