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Post-Brexit: Tackling of Inequality and Hatred Must Be Priorities

30/06/2016 15:10 | Updated 30 June 2016

This article was first printed by the Yorkshire Post.

The EU Referendum has not only resulted in political and economic instability but has also exposed the uncomfortable divisions that exist within the UK.

Prior to the EU Referendum, I wrote in the Yorkshire Post that political leaders on both sides of the campaign needed to avoid hyperbolic claims and focus on the disenfranchised voters. The Remain campaign seem to have ignored those voters living in areas of social and economic deprivation. Although by no means everyone living in such areas perceived the EU to be the cause of their lack of prosperity, an overwhelming majority did. Interestingly, although 46% of British Muslims live in the bottom 10% most deprived wards in England, most of them did not see European Union as the cause of their economic deprivation - 70% of Muslims voted for Remain, so did other minorities - Asians in general (67%) and Blacks (74%).

In the run up to the referendum the political elite were relying on the 'status quo' argument; that those who were unsure would vote to Remain on the understanding that people do not generally like taking the risks associated with changing the status quo. But this strategy backfired spectacularly, as what they failed to recognise was that if your status quo is that you are unemployed, struggle to find a place in your local school for your children, and feel that your country has been taken over by others, then you would happily take the risk and vote to Leave that status quo. This protest vote makes one point abundantly clear: the disenfranchised amongst us will no longer accept being marginalised.

The Brexit result also seems to have unleashed bigotry and hatred against migrants and minorities. It has given legitimacy and a new found voice to racist and Islamophobic narratives. Leading up to the EU Referendum, we all saw that the tone, rhetoric and campaigning material of some members of the Leave campaign was anti-Muslim, anti-sematic and anti-ethnic minorities. The divisive and toxic campaigned continued for months - ranging from the Leave campaign poster stating that 76 million Turks were about to join the EU to the infamous UKIP 'breaking point' poster showing Syrian refugees on the Croatia-Slovenia border. But most of us remained silent. Even in Leeds, I saw that members of the Leave campaign were espousing hate-filled rhetoric and false information to many people in city centre. Instead of talking about economic, political and social benefits of leaving the UK, they were focusing on the perceived "Muslim invasion" of Britain, or "Sharia" being enforced in parts of Yorkshire - truth could not be further from that.

Those who voted to Leave did so for a variety of reasons and not all of them should be accused of being, selfish, bigoted, xenophobic or racist. However. my concern has always been that a UK departure would reinforce ultra-nationalist far right sentiments amongst certain sections of society, and they would seek to alienate and demonise minorities. The fact that there has been a 57% rise in the number of hate crimes reported in the aftermath of the referendum shows that the result has given a new found confidence to those who may have previously expressed such views online or in closed quarters; they have been emboldened to take their messages of hate to the streets.

Within a couple of days of Brexit, we have seen anti-Muslim, anti-migrant and anti-refugee sentiments on our streets from Newcastle to London. In Cambridgeshire there have been reports of signs saying "Leave the EU, no more Polish vermin" posted through the letter boxes of polish families. A number of Muslims have been shouted at with the question: "When are you leaving our country?" Little do the abusers know that ancestors of some of these Muslims not only fought for Britain in World Wars, but then came to build it post war. The reports of incidents include a group of young men shouting "Get out, we voted 'Leave'" at a Muslim girl in the street; and a man in a Tesco supermarket yelling "Rule Britannia! now get out" at a Muslim woman.

As an independent member of the government's anti-Muslim hatred working group, I am deeply concerned about the rise of racial and religiously-motivated incidents against all communities, in particular Muslims. Anti-Muslim hate monitoring group Tell MAMA reports 326 per cent increase in incidents against Muslims in 2015 - and warns Brexit could make it worse.

What has been most upsetting and disturbing is that there have been no immediate statements from Leave campaign leaders condemning such xenophobic and racially-motivated incidents. Less than two weeks ago we saw the consequence of intolerance and hatred, when the life of humanitarian Jo Cox MP was taken away by someone who is alleged to have been radicalised by the far right movement.

I am not oblivious to the fact that a lack of appropriate immigration control has been a challenge for our country for quite some time. I know that many skilled labourers feel they are in constant competition with migrants, who they perceive to suppress wages and deprive them of work. I am aware of many people in my neighbourhood who feel they have lost control over the future of their country, but the solution is not to become intolerant, racist or violent towards other communities.

There is a need for an honest debate around immigration, how it should be managed, its impact on our families, on public services, housing and so on. The anti-immigration sentiments need to be placed in a comparative context, and should not be used as a tool to create further divisions between communities or fuel hatred towards others, according to thinktank British Future.

There is no doubt that the repercussions of this historic vote will be felt for many years, and potentially decades, to come. But this decision of over 17 million people must be respected and we must remain positive. Now is not the time for fall outs. Unity, stability, reconciliation and tackling of inequality and bigotry must be our priorities post-Brexit.

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