Trevor Phillips, the former chairman of the Equality and Human Rights commission, has said that there is “no evidence” that crimes fuelled by racism have increased since Brexit.
Mr Phillips was part of a panel at an event put on by the Mile End Institute - a policy thinktank at Queen Mary, University of London - to debate what Brexit means to the UK’s black and Asian population.
Also on the panel were Labour MP Rupa Huq, University of Manchester researcher Neema Begum and Sunder Katwala, the director of the British Future thinktank.
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At the start of the discussion, each panellist was invited to give their thoughts on the BAME community’s feelings on Brexit.
Mr Phillips said during his opening talk that there “no evidence racial violence has increased” since the 2016 referendum.
Home Office Data shows that racially or religiously aggravated hate crimes did rise temporarily after the EU referendum result before falling again, before another spike can be seen after the Westminster Bridge attack in March 2017.
'People feel more inclined to say what they feel'
L-R: Trevor Phillips, panel chair Ayesha Hazarika, Neema Begum and Sunder Katwala. Image: Thea de Gallier
In May, Tendayi Achiume, the United Nations’ special rapporteur on racism and xenophobia, said that Brexit had left “more vulnerable to racial discrimination and intolerance” during a visit to the UK.
Brexiteer Iain Duncan Smith said at the time: “‘These visits are completely pointless. They are politically motivated, they are inspired by the extreme left, and the idea is to kick the UK.”
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Ms Huq and Ms Begum disagreed with Mr Phillips during the panel discussion, leading him to concede that “people feel more inclined to say what they feel”.
Mr Phillips also said that concerns about immigration were not necessarily driven by racism, but rather, “a fear of change”.
Mr Phillips declined to speak to the press after the panel discussion ended.
'Climate has changed since Brexit'
Ms Huq told talkRADIO: "We all know that there was a spike in hate crime immediately after the referendum and that people are now disinhibited from openly engaged in hate speech. It is dangerous to be in denial of this.
"We know there was a spike in hate crimes on the weekend after the referendum result on the 23rd June 2016. All the figures I’ve seen show these things are on the rise."
She added that the UK had generally been positive on race relations, but said modern "political discourse" had changed things.
"In general in the United Kingdom we’ve had a good record on race relations.
"We’ve never had anything like in France where the National Front was in the running for presidency. Generally - I’m of Bangladeshi descent myself - I think the process of moving to an imperial past to a post-colonial future pretty well.
"But I do think the referendum result has divided our country.
"I feel people are disinhibited from saying stuff they wouldn’t have said out loud before.
"I think technology is a driver as well, these things are spewing out on social media. I do think, not only the referendum, but the election of Trump, the way our political discourse has moved, changed this climate.
"The figures speak for themselves, the trend is sadly upwards. I think it’s undeniable the climate has changed since Brexit."