Brexit leads to rising anti-Muslim and anti-migrant prejudice in UK politics

Advocacy group Hope Not Hate warns of growing threat posed by far-right terrorism

Protestors from the English Defence League take part in a demonstration against Islamic extremism in Birmingham, central England, on September 5, 2009. AFP PHOTO/PAUL ELLIS
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The Brexit debate allowed anti-Muslim prejudice and anti-migrant sentiment to creep into mainstream British politics from the far right, a report has found.

Research by the advocacy group Hope Not Hate showed that the lines between the far-right and the British political establishment have become increasingly blurred as politicians and commentators have started to use language once found only on the far right.

This led to “anti-Muslim prejudice, demeaning rhetoric on migrants and refugees, and notions of a cultural war against social liberalism increasingly being adopted", the group’s annual report said.

This was partly blamed on figures from the political centre ground embracing right-wing ideas to win popular support, but also on an increasing engagement by far-right groups, with “wider cultural and identity issues”.

But Hope Not Hate said the “traditional” far-right in the country was weaker now than at any time since the 1960s.

The advocacy group warned, however, that far-right terrorism is a growing threat, with perpetrators often younger and more dangerous.

“The Government’s counter-extremism strategy is now outdated and needs an urgent overhaul," the report said.

"The far-right is very different from the one identified in the 2015 counter-extremism strategy.

“The authorities are not equipped to engage with the far right as an ideological battle, nor to connect offline far-right crimes with the online networks and propaganda influencing them."

Hope Not Hate warned that while the far right remains weak it could easily re-emerge if disillusionment with Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government took hold.

In September 2019, the head of British counter-terror police said right-wing extremism posed the most serious threat to UK security.

Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu said far-right terror threat was the “fastest growing problem” UK police were dealing with.

Mr Basu said as many as 10 per cent of investigations involved right-wing extremists.