Downing Street has urged the public to stand up to hate crime after the UK’s equalities chief warned a surge in violence could be sparked by triggering Article 50.
The Prime Minister’s official spokeswoman said people should “call out” any attacks on EU citizens in the UK that might follow the start of Brexit’s formal process.
“Where there is hate crime, we should stand up to it, call it out and take action and make very clear it is not acceptable in this country”, she said.
Earlier on Wednesday the Equality and Human Rights Commission chair David Isaac said he was “hugely concerned” about an increase in hate crime surrounding the date.
Theresa May has vowed to trigger Article 50 by the end of March.
Hate crimes surged in the month following the UK’s vote to leave the EU last June, with a 41% increase in reports to the police, compared to the previous year.
The Home Office said in its latest report that the number of such crimes fell again in August but “remained at a higher level than prior to the EU referendum”.
“These increases fit the widely reported pattern of an increase in hate crime following the EU referendum”, it said.
Last week The Huffington Post UK reported on warnings from a Polish Community leader that a “wave of hate crimes” could follow the start of Brexit.
Isaac echoed these concerns on Wednesday, telling the Commons Women and Equalities Committee: “We are hugely concerned about what might happen in relation to an increase in hate crime when Article 50 is triggered.”
“And so, to give you examples of what we are seeking to do, we are meeting with groups, we are seeking to ensure that there is as much police protection and understanding in relation to hate crimes as is possible”, he said.
Later on Wednesday the Prime Minister’s official spokeswoman said those who stood up to hate crime would make a “useful contribution to the debate”.
“We have been very clear that we want to continue to be an open tolerant nation. That where there is hate crime, we should stand up to it, call it out and take action and make very clear it is not acceptable in this country”, she said.
“And I think people will to do that and make that very clear, that’s a useful contribution to the debate.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “The Home Secretary has been crystal clear that hatred has absolutely no place in a Britain that works for everyone. The action this Government is taking is working and more victims are finding the confidence to come forward to report these crimes.
“Our hate crime laws are among the best in the world and our Hate Crime Action Plan sets out how we are further reducing hate crime, increasing reporting and improving support for victims.”