Viewers criticised the shadow home secretary as “disgraceful” and “disrespectful” after an audience member grilled her on Thursday about remarks she made at the Labour party conference in September.
According to the Sun, Abbott told the audience at an event discussing racism: “The people that complain about the freedom of movement will not be satisfied because what they really want is to see less foreign looking people on their streets.”
The disgruntled QT audience member, who said the Labour MP’s comments had caused him “so much distress and hurt”, challenged her to apologise.
He said: “Do you have any remorse or any apology to make over the disgusting comments you made against me and the millions of innocent people who voted Leave when you said that because they voted Leave, they don’t like the look of foreign people - they must be racist or xenophobic.”
Responding to the man, Abbott denied the comments, claiming she would “never say that people voted to come out because they were racist”.
She told the audience: “Do you know, one of the people I most admire in politics was Tony Benn and if he was alive today, he would have voted to come out of the EU.
“So I would never say that people voted to come out because they were racist.”
However, the MP then continued: “But, there is no question that in the month after the Brexit vote, we had a 41% rise in race hate.”
Speaking about the recent attack on 17-year-old asylum seeker Reker Ahmed in Croydon, the 63-year-old continued: “We saw the terrible killing (Ahmed remains in an induced coma in hospital) of the Kurdish boy in Croydon.
“I’m not saying there weren’t good reasons to come out of the EU, but lets be clear about the rise in hate crimes that we have seen since.”
The MP’s comments prompted many Question Time viewers to later accuse her on Twitter of reaffirming her claims that Brexiteers are racist, while some audience members heckled.
Abbott’s fellow panellists also condemned her comments, with Suella Fernandes calling them “irresponsible”.
The Conservative MP added: “I think it’s very irresponsible of you to stir up this unfounded suggestion that people who voted to Leave the European Union are somehow racist and that the awful killing in Croydon was somehow motivated by Brexit.
“There is no evidence of that.”