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Stop Brexit-fuelled racism and campaign lies

29.06.16-UN-Commissioner-for-Human-Rights-590x393.jpg [Related Image]
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein urged Britain on Tuesday to prevent further incidents of xenophobic abuse in the wake of the vote to leave the European Union, and to prosecute perpetrators. © REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

We can unite on this – Remainers and many Leavers too – suggests Vanessa Baird.

The upsurge in racist incidents – with a 57 per cent increase in the four days following Britain’s EU referendum – has brought widespread condemnation.

Thousands have come out on the streets in British cities to show their solidarity with ethnic minorities and foreign nationals living in the country. Tens of thousands have signed petitions calling on the authorities to take action. Others have posted accounts of personal experiences of hate crime on Twitter alongside the hashtag  #PostRefRacism.

There are cases of foreigners being told ‘We voted this way, now get out’ and ‘Go back to your country’.

Poles have been targeted, but more than 100 incidents of anti-Muslim hate crime have also been reported. Miqdaad Versi of the Muslim Council of Britain, says that Brexit has ‘unleashed a Pandora’s box of Islamophobia’.

Amnesty International is one of the many organizations, including UN Human Rights, that have voiced concern and called for action.

London’s new Labour Party mayor Sadiq Khan said there would be zero tolerance of hate crime, a view echoed by Conservative leader David Cameron and others. People are urged to report hate crimes they experience or witness to the police or via

Some Brexiteers, Member of Parliament Boris Johnson included, are now keen to suggest that negative attitudes towards immigrants were not a major reason for people voting Brexit.

This survey of voters’ attitudes paints a rather different picture.

It shows Leave voters rating immigration and multiculturalism as an overwhelming ‘force for ill’ (80 and 81 per cent respectively), along with feminism (78 per cent), social liberalism (74 per cent) and the green movement (69 per cent).

However, there are also, of course, many Brexit voters who are not intolerant xenophobes and who are appalled by the upsurge in racist hatred. Which makes this is an issue on which anti-racists in both the Leave and Remain camp can unite and take action.

There is another common cause: voters on both sides are sick to death with the lies that plagued the referendum campaign, some of which enjoyed extraordinary traction and permanence, even after being shown to be patently false.

If campaign leaders had been trading goods or services they could be prosecuted by the Advertising Standards Authority. But there is no law or body in Britain that stops political campaign material from lying.

A growing number of people are demanding change. Some say the Electoral Commission should be empowered to impose fines and penalties on those who peddle misinformation during political campaigns. Members of 38 Degrees have created one such campaign.

Another petition, on, has collected more than 17,000 signatures of people calling for the establishment of an independent body to monitor political advertising.

The EU referendum, called by Cameron in a hubristic bid to hammer the Eurosceptics in his own party, has turned into a national catastrophe. It has provoked not only a political crisis (both major parties are currently de facto leaderless) and economic turmoil (look at the country’s tumbling currency, volatile markets, downgraded credit rating), but also deep social division and pain.

The two campaigns to stop racism and political misinformation are key to the kind of country Britain is likely to be. They may also help us to bond and to heal some of the poisonous wounds that have opened up in British society.

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