EU referendum 'has led to rise in anti-foreigner sentiment in UK'

Harlow murder

The EU referendum seems to have led to a rise in "anti-foreigner" sentiment in the UK, a European human rights watchdog has claimed.

Levels of hate speech and racist violence were highlighted in an assessment by the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance.

Its report said there continues to be"considerable intolerant political discourse focusing on immigration and contributing to an increase in xenophobic sentiment".

The commission said a particularly high number of violent racist incidents occurred in 2013, with a sharp rise in anti-Muslim violence.

Antisemitic incidents reached the highest level ever recorded in 2014, according to the body - which is part of the Strasbourg-based Council of Europe.

The report, which takes account of developments from 2009 to March this year, said online hate speech targeting Muslims in particular has soared since 2013.

Christian Ahlund, the chair of the watchdog, said: "It is no coincidence that racist violence is on the rise in the UK at the same time as we see worrying examples of intolerance and hate speech in the newspapers, online and even among politicians.

Harlow murder

"The Brexit referendum seems to have led to a further rise in 'anti-foreigner' sentiment, making it even more important that the British authorities take the steps outlined in our report as a matter of priority."

Police figures showed a spike in hate crime reports in the weeks after the referendum in June. The number later dipped, but remained higher than 2015.

The report also said there are "significant gaps" between equality law in Great Britain and in Northern Ireland and pointed to the absence of a national strategy for the integration of Roma, Gypsies and Travellers in the UK.

A number of positive developments were cited in the study, however. The commission welcomed the entry into force of the Equality Act 2010, and said the UK has generally strong legislation against racism and racial discrimination.

The Government launched a new action plan to tackle hate crime in July.

Minister for Vulnerability, Safeguarding and Countering Extremism Sarah Newton said: "We are clear that there is no excuse for hate crime against anyone of any nationality, ethnicity or religious background - it has no place whatsoever in our diverse society.

"This commitment is underpinned by some of the strongest legislation in the world.

"We welcome that the Commission has recognised the strength of our new hate crime action plan which will help reduce hate crime, increase reporting and improve support for victims."