LONDON (Reuters) - Prime Minister David Cameron promised on Wednesday to clamp down on hate crime in the wake of a spike in racially motivated incidents since Britain voted to leave the European Union which have spread fear among ethnic minority groups.
Muslim and Eastern European communities have reported a spate of incidents across the country after last week’s Brexit vote, which followed a campaign in which immigration had played a key role.
Dozens of people have reported being abused and told to “go home” in the street, offensive leaflets have been distributed and graffiti daubed on a Polish community center in London. Police said online reports of hate crime incidents had risen by 57 percent.
“We will not tolerate hate crime or any kind of attacks against people in our country because of their ethnic origin,” Cameron told lawmakers who repeatedly asked him to provide support to EU nationals living in Britain.
Cameron said he had reassured European leaders at a meeting in Brussels on Tuesday night after they had expressed concern about what they had heard was happening in Britain.
Critics accuse some in the “Leave” campaign of having stoked xenophobia and racism as part of a message that exiting the bloc would allow Britain to regain control of its borders and stop uncontrolled immigration, which many Britons blame for putting pressure on jobs and public services.
A week before the vote, opposition Labour lawmaker Jo Cox, a strong supporter of staying in the EU, was shot and stabbed to death in her constituency in northern England.
Home Office (interior ministry) minister Karen Bradley said extra funding would be provided to tackle hate crime, to boost reporting of offences and to provide security at potentially vulnerable institutions.
“In recent days we have seen far-right groups engaged in organized marches and demonstrations sowing division and fears in our communities,” Bradley said.
“We have also seen far-right groups broadcasting extreme racist and anti-Semitic ideology online along with despicable hate speech posted online following the shocking death of our colleague Jo Cox.”
Labour home affairs spokesman Andy Burnham said since last week there had been reports of a fivefold increase in race hate comment on social media channels, and there had been already been a “rising tide” of hate crime.
London police said they had arrested a 41-year-old man on Wednesday on suspicion of inciting racial hatred, adding the investigation was related to extreme far-right social media postings of an “Islamophobic and anti-Semitic nature”.
Reporting by Michael Holden; editing by Stephen Addison