More than two months after the Brexit referendum, the surge in hate crime and racism unleashed by the referendum shows no sign of abating, and the politicians who did so much to help bring it about continue to deny any responsibility for it. Farage has done this on various occasions, and now MEP and arch-Brexiter Daniel Hannan has joined the dismal chorus.
Asked by Dermot Murnaghan on Sky News whether he felt there had been ‘an increase in hate crimes involving foreign nationals in the UK’, Hannan denied that any such increase had taken place and accused Murnaghan of being ‘tendentious’ in his questioning.
How so? Because, according to Hannan, ‘ there has been for a long period a rise in the reporting of hate crime incidents because of the way in which the police have their websites and treat every report as an incident. There hasn’t been any increase in the number of cases referred for prosecution and some of the cases the media have jumped on have turned out to have nothing to do with Brexit at all.’
Of course tracing a direct causal link between every instance of racist violence and Brexit is difficult, if not impossible, but Hannan’s denial of any connection at all is weak, self-serving and intellectually dishonest. Police figures make it clear that there has been an exponential rise in the number of reported racist or hate crime incidents in the months since the referendum, which has nothing to do with ‘the way in which the police have their websites,’ whatever that means.
Hannan is right that such incidents preceded Brexit. Long before the referendum, politicians and newspapers were portraying migrants and foreigners as feckless parasites who come here either to take ‘our’ jobs or batten off the taxpayer. If you routinely criticize people for not speaking English in public and accuse them of being cultural usurpers or invaders, you can’t be entirely surprised when Polish migrants are physically and sometimes verbally attacked if they speak to each other, or when mothers are frightened to talk to their own children in their own language in public.
After all, some of our leading politicians and newspapers have saying for years that migrants must be like us or leave, and they’ve done this without a sliver of shame and without any acknowledgement that their words might have actual consequences for the men and women who they were directed against.
This steady drip-drip of contempt, disdain, paranoia and chauvinist poison has eroded decades of slow and often painful progress towards a society in which overt expressions of racism were not socially legitimate or acceptable.
So on one level the surge in post-Brexit racism is something that has been incubating for a long time. But the referendum brought out into the open what had previously been covert and underground, to the point when too many people now feel legitimised and justified in persecuting migrants or anyone who looks and sounds like one.
The politicians who directed the campaign may not have wanted this to happen, but they deliberately and cynically inflamed the most primitive xenophobic and nativist instincts in the population, because they knew that these were the sentiments that would bring them victory. They may not think of themselves as racists and xenophobes, but in moral terms you don’t really look that great if you aren’t a ‘genuine’ racist, but someone who merely uses racism and xenophobia to your own political advantage. It’s nothing to boast about, frankly.
In his Sky Interview Hannan tells Murnaghan that he has no right ‘ to insult 52% of the British electorate by suggesting there is some connection between voting to take back our laws and being unpleasant to people who have made their lives here, I think that’s an extremely dangerous way of going.’
Not nearly as dangerous as the menacing forces that Hannan and his cohorts have helped to unleash. And regardless of what he says, I will insult and condemn the politicians who made this happen, and never more so than when they have the gall to pretend that it was nothing to do with them.