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Is Brexit a sign of the rising far-right in Britain?

Increased hate crime and xenophobia in the country began to surface after Britain last week voted in a historic referendum to exit the EU

Rua’a Alameri

Published: Updated:

After Britain last week voted in a historic referendum to exit the European Union – commonly known as Brexit – reports of increased hate crime and xenophobia in the country began to surface.

Police in the UK registered a noticeable rise in hate speech and complaints of racial abuse since last weeks vote.

The National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) reported on Monday that there had been a 57 percent increase in reports of hate crime incidents made to its online site since Friday in comparison to the same timeframe in the previous month.

In the eastern county of Cambridgeshire, the BBC reported that cards reading “Leave the EU/No more Polish vermin” appeared outside homes and schools after the referendum vote.

Alex Warren, who ran Liberal Democrat party’s ‘Remain’ campaign in Manchester told Al Arabiya English that he had been a witness to several “extremist views” regarding Brexit and immigration.

Warren said that he himself was a victim to abuse after he defended a homeless Syrian man from xenophobic insults.

A woman “was spitting abuse at a Syrian man, questioning his homelessness and saying he was taking this country for a ride. I stepped in and said she was out of line to question his circumstance and she rounded on me,” he said.

According to Warren, the ‘Leave’ campaign focused on what it saw as out-of-control immigration politics and many of the voters who opted for Brexit believed would now be “kicked out.”

Warren said that far-right sentiments against immigration seem to be intensifying and that “tensions aren’t getting any better.”

‘Lies and hate’

Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, a member of the ruling Conservative party who sits in the House of Lords, had switched from backing the ‘Leave’ campaign to ‘Remain’ just three days before the referendum after stating the Brexit campaign was full of “lies and hate.”

Yet some feel that Britain has let in too many immigrants in recent years – and that the EU’s open border policies have left the country without sovereignty and control.

The British National Party, a far right group which has no standing members in either the House of Commons or the European Parliament, declares on its website that “Britain’s full and it’s time to shut the door!”

David Furness, a party spokesman and former London Mayoral candidate told Al Arabiya English that immigration is a “very big problem in the UK.”

People who voted to leave the EU have reached a point where they feel that migrants have affected them and are now speaking against the issue, the spokesman added.

“People feel like they are sidelined…they have had enough,” he said, adding that people feeling like strangers in their own country was similar to “genocide.”

A British voter who wished only to be known as ‘Mrs. Catholic State’ told Al Arabiya English that she had voted leave “because of immigration… and the eventual loss of all sovereignty.”

However, according to data from the Office for National Statistics, immigrants from the EU make up just five percent of the population.

‘Terror attack’

A week before the vote, parliament member Jo Cox, who was backing the ‘Remain’ campaign, was fatally shot and stabbed outside her constituency office in Birstall.

Thomas Mair, the man charged with the murder of Cox, gave his name as “death to traitors, freedom for Britain” when he appeared in court following the attack.

Witnesses reportedly said the attacker had shouted out “Britain First,” which is the name of another far-right group.

Soon after, leaflets claiming to be from the BNP were posted to local residents accusing Cox of having taken “misguided action” by “helping Muslims.”

Labour MP Paula Sherriff said to the House of Commons on Wednesday that people living in her nearby constituency of Dewsbury had received leaflets from BNP activists making a number of “horrendous allegations.”

However, BNP spokesman Furness said that “those leaflets were false” and another attempt to smear the party.

According to Cox’s husband Brendon, she had been worried about Britain’s political culture, including a rise in extreme views.

Cox said that his wife was worried about the tone of the debate that focused on immigration and which she feared was fostering hatred.

Far-right movement in EU

Last year, as several EU states began to adopt an open-door policy to refugees from Syria and elsewhere - most notably Germany, which accepted around 1 million migrants - reports of far-right groups protesting across Europe surged.

Earlier this month, hundreds of far-right activists from various German political groups gathered in the western German city of Dortmund for an annual demonstration against immigration and the government’s policy of multiculturalism.

Far-right protests also took place in France in late May, as hundreds rallied in the streets of Paris in a demonstration organized by the French anti-immigration Generation Identitaire movement, which protests against “Islamization.”

In Belgium a month earlier, police also made a series of arrests of right-wing protesters after clashes in Brussels.

The demonstrations were held in Molenbeek, a largely Muslim neighborhood where a number of the militants who staged attacks in Paris had been based.

Rob Newman, a teacher from Stoke-on-Trent, does not believe that Brexit will end up bolstering far-right groups across the continent or at home.

“We’ve always had closet bigots in this country,” said Newman. “Those disparate groups think this referendum win has legitimized their views so they are more vociferous,” he said.

However, he doubts his own convictions. Recently, a Spanish friend of his who had lived in the UK since the age of 10 had been told in public to “speak English when in England.” She was “shocked” by the remark, he added. “She is now considering leaving the UK.”

“In 50 years historians [may] look back on this time and say that was the beginning of the far-right.”