Taking a stand against post-Brexit racism

Tim Farron has rightly taken a stand against the upsurge of race hate crimes post-Brexit, but as a party Liberal Democrats need to develop a coherent response that does more than state how repellent racism is or how much it jars with liberal values.

The issue is not likely to disappear soon. Just yesterday Scotland Yard’s deputy commissioner Craig Mackey reported that race crimes in the capital had doubled.

The projection of all society’s ills on migrants and foreigners is nothing new. Yet the Leave result appears to have taken the cork off emotions around immigration, Islamophobia and paranoia over being ‘a minority in our own country’ which had been brewing for many years.

Post-Brexit racism, as it is being called, is pre-existing prejudice and fear seemingly legitimised, sanctioned and mainstreamed in the minds of the perpetrators. This has caused Black, Asian and other visible minorities, even second and third generation British citizens, to experience a sudden change in climate as the pollution of racism drifted in.

The immigration debate often carries a subtext which is about race and colour. Dog whistle newspaper headlines and government campaign posters have created a climate of suspicion of our neighbours and fear of ‘the other’ which extends to people of colour no matter how many generations their families have been in the UK. People I know, who had not heard the n-word or the p-word for many years, or even decades, are now being subjected to such abuse.

The spike in ‘post-Brexit racism’ is alarming but the ‘normal’ level of race hate goes largely unremarked each year. Before the referendum, reported race hate crimes were running at 130 every single day, or one attack every 11 minutes. In addition, estimates put under-reporting rate of between 40 and 50 percent.
Everyday racism is commonplace, even in multicultural areas. How many Muslim women, for example, can get through any given week without facing hostility on the streets? The everyday reality before Brexit was an affront to decency and modernity before we even approached the ‘spike’.

Many on the progressive side of politics have failed to challenge and change the direction and undertone of debates around immigration and Islamophobia, or the institutional racism that is responsible for British-born Black people being twice as likely to be unemployed as their white counterparts.

National action is part of the solution – laws, targets and national debate – but top-down initiatives cannot succeed alone without a local approach. Bringing local communities together through shared dialogue and decision-making, diverse devolution that welcomes and embeds newcomers into community life, can help bring people together and spread power downwards.

But such solutions need careful design to balance the self-selecting active citizens, who often make up un-diverse attendees at community forums, with more reluctant attenders.

There are other actions that we can take too. The Government needs a new national strategy on reporting and prevention, and to introduce a stand-alone offence for hate on social media. The courts can be encouraged not to feel obligated to disregard racially-aggravated circumstances of a crime if the defendant pleads guilty.

Anti-racism is a doing verb not a passive self-declaration. It is constant, not a fad. It involves working against all causes of racism, whether that be explicit racism on the streets and social media, institutional racism causing unequal outcomes. Anti-racism also implies challenging our own unconscious attitudes or challenging ourselves about mono-cultural spaces, opportunity and privilege.

You can report racial abuse on the free Eyewitness App.

* Lester Holloway is a former councillor and member of the Equalities Policy Working Group, and a member of the Race Equality Taskforce

Read more by .
This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Tony Greaves 21st Jul '16 - 2:09pm

    I very much agree with all of this. But what would be really helpful to time-pressed local activists wold be a check-list of “things to do”.

    Tony Greaves

  • Lorenzo Cherin 21st Jul '16 - 2:16pm

    Lester of course gets the support of all with this.

    One thing we must not miss, however , the prejudice against some economic migrants and now residents from eastern Europe , is not racism , as they are of the same race as the traditionally white , British.In fact , the ethnicity of the victims of such disdain are very near in geography and history , to the sort of idiotic mindset that does not seem to realise , that we do indeed have more in common !

    Another thing we must realise , a good number of black and asian British , though the minority , did vote for Brexit , and , when interviewed , express real concern on the sudden numbers of enlarged and changing demographics based on the immigration or recent migration.

    We , as a party , and any of us from immigrant or part , backgrounds or lineage , need to be finely tuned , far more than the narrative of our leadership. UKIP may be about to elect Steven Woolfe , one quarter black , one quarter jewish , one quarter irish , one quarter english , as leader !

  • Former Lib Dem MP Paul Keetch is being investigated over postings he made on Facebook during the referendum. Lets see whether such things are dealt with in any way better than than they have been in the past.

  • Rebecca Taylor 21st Jul '16 - 4:19pm

    Very pertinent article Lester.

    Several years ago in Bradford I attended an event on human rights in Kashmir. The chair (a Tory man of Pakistani heritage) mentioned the importance of voting in the (then upcoming) European elections. He didn’t suggest which party people should vote for, but did express his concerns that the rise of UKIP and their anti-foreigner rhetoric (ostensibly against “uncontrolled EU migration”) would create a hostile environment for BAME Brits including people looking at his (British born) children and seeing them as “foreign” or “a problem”.

    At the time, I hoped he was being over-dramatic. One year later, just before the 2015 general election, my former flatmate, a fellow Yorkshirewoman of Indian heritage had a very unpleasant experience on her commute to work in London at the hands of two UKIP supporters. With her permission and input, I reported her experience on my blog: http://rebeccataylormep.blogspot.co.uk/2015/04/the-poisonous-climate-of.html

    Now one year later, things are even worse : ( Good on Tim for speaking out. All of us as individuals must do the same. As LibDems we need to (as Lester says) DO anti-racism. Staying silent/doing nothing will at best change nothing, and at worse give tacit approval to perpetrators of this anti-liberal discrimination.

    @Lorenzo: discrimination against white European migrants can be called “xenophobia”.

    NB: it is perfectly possible to express concern about immigration/issues related to immigration without being the least bit racist or xenophobic. I had one lady express concern about the living conditions in which some recent immigrants in her neighbourhood were living (many people in a small house). She felt bad that people who had come to the UK to work and improve themselves found themselves having to live in such conditions. So her concern was primarily how our failed housing market was letting people down (in this case low paid immigrant workers).

  • “Everyday racism is commonplace, even in multicultural areas”
    Indeed it is. How about these incidents, [which I have witnessed], for examples of racism or overt cultural disrespect, all occurring within an overwhelmingly Muslim area.?

    ~ A billboard painted over in black paint because the Special K, ad depicted a young woman in a red swimsuit.
    ~ A young white woman with a baby buggy, having to step off the curb into oncoming traffic, in order to get around a group of young Asian men congregating on the pavement outside their mosque, … refusing to even acknowledge her presence, let alone part and let her through their blocking of the pavement.
    ~ In areas of mainly Asian community, where it is now a given, to assume that the protocol of a Zebra Crossing does not apply, if the driver is a young Muslim man, and the person crossing is white British.?

    What are these incidents if not racist,..an overt cultural disrespect,.. and even hard core unrepentant misogyny.?
    Are those, forever trigger happy to chant *racist*, willing to recognise that community cohesion is being undermined by overt cultural disrespect occurring *on both sides* of this hostile divide.? And if so, what plans do we have to assist the education of cultures that on the surface appear totally intransigent to integration with the western liberal values of tolerance of each other.?

  • Richard Underhill 21st Jul '16 - 5:19pm

    Campaigning in the EU referendum there was a sullen resentment from EU citizens not allowed to vote, even though they were directly affected, except for Irish who assumed remain would win.

  • J Dunn

    How is painting over a billboard “racist”?

  • “How is painting over a billboard “racist”?
    I think you are rather [purposely], missing the point, about a cultures unwillingness to tolerate other cultures.?

  • crewegwyn
    I’m assuming you have some Welsh connection, but the point still carries. Am I OK to drive around North Wales with a pot of black paint to obliterate all the Welsh language in road signs, just because it might offend my Englishness.? No, thought not.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 21st Jul '16 - 8:34pm


    A very poignant contribution and glad to have discovered your blog.

    Of course you are right. One of my great favourites, the late ,and Liberal voting , Sir Peter Ustinov , set up a department through his own personal input and fundraising , at Durham University where he was Chancellor , that was all about the study of and solution to , prejudice. A different word to racism . More broad and more interesting in the scope of what it might reveal or contain.

    There is of course a fine , very fine in fact , line, between , the various forms of at best, wrong , at worst , warped , thinking , or lack of thought and actual thoughtfulness , that is behind the seeing of others as “the other .”We here who are Liberal , get it . Of course most do .But not all.

    As someone of a mixed European background , half Italian , part Irish , I am very patriotic, and feel British first . But that makes me all the more aware my political views as a Liberal Democrat are such as to not let succeed , the tendency ,that leads to the movement that is Britain First !

  • Jonathan Brown 21st Jul '16 - 11:32pm

    A very timely and well-argued article Lester.

    I’m white British but even I sense the increased tension, sadness and rejection felt by many of my ethnic minority friends and colleagues, whether they’re British or not, and whether or not they’ve suffered explicit abuse – which many have.

    Your arguments are valid for the country as a whole, but this being a Lib Dem blog aimed mainly at a Lib Dem audience, it is appropriate that we think about the implications of your article for ourselves as a party.

    I think your final line is key: “Anti-racism also implies challenging our own unconscious attitudes or challenging ourselves about mono-cultural spaces, opportunity and privilege.”

    I think this is something most people struggle with, myself included, but it’s a particular problem for us as a party because of the relative lack of diversity in the party. It’s hard for anyone to examine their own actions and thoughts at the best of times, but it’s much harder when you are not being challenged by the simple presence of others. A nearly all-white party sends out a signal that ethnic minorities are not welcome, even if that’s not the intention, and requires much more bravery from us. It’s up to us to prove that we are as tolerant and welcoming as we think we are, and that’s not something we will achieve passively.

    It’s why I think it’s so important that the party actively seeks out the opinions of ethnic minority members, supporters and non-supporters, and then acts upon them. This isn’t something that can be achieved by a one-off chat with a ‘community leader’. It has to be sustained, ongoing and we have to be willing to change ourselves as a result. It means not just listening and acting but becoming:including and promoting ethnic minority members, not because of their ethnicity but because of the contributions they make that we as a party are not well practiced at noticing.

    @J Dunn – it would help to listen rather than pour fuel on the fire. No one is suggesting that improving community relations is a one-way street (least of all Lester in this article). Rather than pitching in with some stereotypes you could perhaps think about what you personally can do to help.

  • Hear hear Lester.
    Also good comments from Rebecca and Jonathan Brown

  • R Uduwerage-Perera 22nd Jul '16 - 8:32am

    Dear Brother Lester,

    Why our Party does not officially tap into your knowledge, understanding, skills and ability in this area at every opportunity I honestly have no idea, although I have asked Party members and staff to do this many times?

    What is Racism?

    It is a: Prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior.

    It is also: The belief that all members of each race possess characteristics, abilities, or qualities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races.

    These two very simple definitions make countering racism achievable. We need to put into place policies, procedures and practices throughout society (our Party) whereby racism is reduced.

    We cannot and should not police people’s thoughts, but when they articulate or act upon these thoughts that results in racism then action I would suggest needs to be taken. The last thing that should happen is that someone is rewarded for their bigotry by those around ignoring it.

    How do we counter Racism institutionally?

    Firstly making sure that our processes, procedures and practices are ‘fit for purpose’ from their inception through to and continuing throughout their application.

    Secondly, stop avoiding and rewarding racist behaviour.

    Thirdly, do not look to the victims of bigotry for the answers alone. Such groups and individuals may only know what the bigotry looks and feels like, they may have no idea how to eradicate it, apart from saying ‘stop it’.

    Racism is not confined to one group alone, but we should take responsibility for our own actions in countering this unnecessary evil, for avoiding doing anything about racism, in whatever guise it is found, merely perpetuates it.

    We all need to look deep into what we are truly doing on an individual and collective level to eradicate racism and all other forms of unnecessary and unwarranted intolerance. Racism is a disease like the common cold, we can all catch it, and get rid of it. Racism need not define what and whom we are either as individuals nor institutionally if we challenge it.

    The Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats (EMLD) is an organisation that seeks to assist the Liberal Democrat Party to become what our principles demand, an anti-racist organisation!

    Yours sincerely and fraternally,

    Ruwan Uduwerage-Perera
    Chair Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 22nd Jul '16 - 9:55am

    Why was Tim Farron retweeting The Sun yesterday ? The article he retweeted was supposed to be about the issue of diplomatic immunity, but the effect of the article is likely to be to add to anti – foreigner prejudice. I know retweeting does not necessarily mean endorsement, but in practice it does tend to be assumed to do so, unless it is made clear that this is not the case. I think Tim Farron retweeted it because he is quoted briefly in the article. But to apparently endorse The Sun, and this particular article, shows very poor judgement

  • David Cooper 22nd Jul '16 - 11:54am

    Dear Mr Holloway
    Why do you conflate Islamophobia with racism? As Ruwan states above, Racism is “Prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior”.

    Islamophobia is antagonism towards a religion, not a race. Whether this antagonism is justified may be debatable (I personally believe it is), but it is not racism.

  • Because the basis of Islamophobia is not the particular creed of any sect of Islam (which most Islamophobes are utterly ignorant of in any respect) but the fact that people who follow Islam or have a Muslim heritage are also (to an overwhelming degree) of African, Arab, Persian, Turkish, South Asian, or Malay/Indonesian ancestry. Of course there are people of other religions in these regions as well, but Islam happens to be the most populous world religion after Christianity, and therefore gets selected as the biggest target.

  • Matt (Bristol) 22nd Jul '16 - 1:15pm

    There is a persistent attempt – by the confused and the manipulative – to conflate / combine islamophobia with racism, by racially profiling Islam. To combat this, we need to be aware of the overlap.

    I am complaining to IPSO about a recent newspaper article in this regard.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 22nd Jul '16 - 1:40pm


    You must realise that phobia is not criticism .Islamophobia is not criticism of Islam , which would be valid , if constructive , or justifiable , if of some.It is a psychological , and in this instance , political ,fear and dislike.

    I have vertigo. I cannot even go on an up escalator , getting higher makes me literally unwell.That is not something that presents me with a big problem .I avoid heights !

    If someone had the same with spiders , so they could do likewise.

    Muslims can and should accept or expect criticism , if some feel they are wrong , which they of course can be and are at times , particularly at the extremes of that , as with any religion.

    But Islam is not like vertigo . And Muslims are not spiders ! Islamophobia is more than wrong !

  • Matt (Bristol) 22nd Jul '16 - 2:01pm

    Lorenzo, not sure I follow your comment.

  • Matt (Bristol) 22nd Jul '16 - 2:03pm

    I think, in fact I used conflate when I meant ‘combine’. Sorry if this caused confusion about my views.

    What I meant was there are journalists and politicians who regularly refer to Islam as if it is a racial group, ascribing racial characteristics, and thus wrongly bring together two forms of prejudice. This is what I am complaining to IPSO about.

  • Islamophobia is a form of racism because the discrimination is done in racialised terms.

    There are, of course, white Muslims, but those Muslims are hardly ever the target of a constant drip-feed of racist rhetoric against people from the Middle East and North Africa, who are not white.

    And, to be honest, trying to trip people into being “the real racist” when they point out racialised discourse of any kind is disgusting.

  • David-1 and Sarah

    Much criticism of Islam is perfectly valid and is no more sinister than the criticism of Christianity we have been free to practise for a relatively short period of historical time. Prior to 2001, this kind of criticism of the illiberal aspects of religion tended to be cheered to the rafters by most liberals. It still is, so long as Christainity is the target. (Compare and contrast liberal reactions to (a) Andrea Leadsom’s association with homophobic Christian groups, and (b) Sadiq Khan’s association with homophobic Islamic groups. Leadsom was roundly condemned by liberals; Khan was not, in fact the people who criticised him were attacked instead.)

    On the other hand, many racists exploit issues within Islam as a fruitful source of attack in a way that is deeply unpleasant and has no irrelevance to most Muslims.

    It isn’t actually difficult to tell these two kinds of people apart, usually. The trouble with the concept of “Islamophobia” is that the term is often used to describe both groups. It’s unhelpful, shuts down debate, and ultimately does absolutely nothing to help the people who would benefit most from a liberal critique of Islam. People are killed somewhere in the world every day because they live within a culture that does not permit criticism of Islam. I’m sure the same is true of some other religions. By conflating valid criticism with bigotry, you are bolstering such ideas.

    Here in the West, criticising the dominant religion also used to be a life-threatening occupation. Liberals fought against it. Muslims deserve the same freedoms we now enjoy, but it’s very difficult to fight for those freedoms without attracting the “Islamophobe” tag.

  • Mick Taylor 23rd Jul '16 - 9:39am

    I fully agree with the need for action against racism in all its forms. Please support the resolution on ‘fighting racism’ that Calderdale have put forward and which has been accepted for debate by autumn conference.

  • Simon Banks 23rd Jul '16 - 4:38pm

    I’m glad to see the supportive response this post has had.

    Just one point. Racism is about perceived race, not any actual genetic subdivisions. Nazism, after all, categorised Jews (classified by ancestry, not religion) and Slavs as racially inferior to Nordic peoples even though there was no real genetic divide between Germans and Poles and some people classified as Jews looked about as Nordic as you could get. Thus if Joe Bloggs thinks of a Lithuanian or a Portuguese as being of different race, and consequently harasses or discriminates against them, that’s racism.

  • R Uduwerage-Perera 24th Jul '16 - 8:51am

    Dear David Cooper,

    It is now commonly accepted that the contemporary tirade against Islam is so closely associated with racism in intent that in most cases it is racism. Much of the criticism is not aimed at the religious doctrine, but misunderstandings about the differing cultural and sub-cultural interpretations, and is therefore another example of racism. It is exactly the same as equating Jews wth the actions of the State of Israel and its political leadership. Labour have managed to really mess this example up, and we should not mimick them their mistakes.

    Jews and Sikhs have been accepted as holding distinct traditions, history, culture to be deemed as a racial groups in addition to being a faith. The more that the followers face the interminable intolerance that they currently face, I would have to agree with those who feel that Islam should likewise be a racial group as well.

    Those wishing to be seen as overtly Anti-Racists and wishing to combat this totally necessary bigotry will be warmly welcomed into the Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats. People wishing to continuing the status quo, or wish to avoid ‘walking the talk’ by implementing our laudable Party principles need not join.


    Ruwan Uduwerage-Perera
    Chair – Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats

Post a Comment

Lib Dem Voice welcomes comments from everyone but we ask you to be polite, to be on topic and to be who you say you are. You can read our comments policy in full here. Please respect it and all readers of the site.

If you are a member of the party, you can have the Lib Dem Logo appear next to your comments to show this. You must be registered for our forum and can then login on this public site with the same username and password.

To have your photo next to your comment please signup your email address with Gravatar.

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

Please complete the name of this site, Liberal Democrat ...?


Recent Comments

  • Jeff
    …there is good reason to believe that the Omicron mutant may not have developed, or we would be able to control it better, if the developed world had made ...
  • Jeff
    The WHO issued a veritable flood of dire warnings. Dozens of NGOs did the same. So did an army of globalists who argued that… It’s not who says wh...
  • James Fowler
    @ Peter Watson, thank you! @ Joe Bourke, linking Parties the factors of production, I'd suggest: The Labour Party - well, the clue is in the name. The Conserva...
  • Jane Ann Liston
    I fear you are right about the Tories being highly motivated to vote. At the last election in St Andrews, the Conservatives stood a final-year student, who w...
  • Christopher Burden
    Thanks, Steffan Aquarone. IMO The essence of motivating voters is that they should feel part of something bigger, a 'great national movement', perhaps, or even ...