Post Brexit: The EU, the UK and Hate Crime
By Joanna Perry
Joanna Perry is an independent consultant and co-chair of the advisory board of the International Network for Hate Studies
While by no means perfect, on several measures the UK has been a European leader in efforts to understand and respond to hate crime. Its diverse and vibrant NGO community stands in solidarity with hate crime’s victims and holds governments to account. Its government produces the most comprehensive hate crime data, including the main targeted groups, spanning the criminal justice system and beyond. Its policy makers and criminal justice leaders have consistently demonstrated leadership in reaching out to affected communities, driving cross-government strategy and action planning and speaking out against bigotry in all its forms. Its scholarship generates a rare diversity of victim-centred evidence, legal enquiry and criminological synthesis, robustly questioning and evidencing efforts to address bigoted, targeted violence. Hate crime practitioners from police and prosecutors to NGOs and academics are regularly and generously approached by their European neighbours for advice and guidance to improve their responses to hate crime in diverse contexts. And of course, the colleagues who work across the hate crime piece include citizens from across Europe who have made the UK their home, and enrich the country with their talent.
Brexit will damage the UK’s contribution to the collective international efforts to address our age-old challenge of violent bigotry. The rapid increase in hate crimes since the referendum, and the certain rupture of a European community of practice that has been painstakingly developed over the years, risk halting significant and measurable progress almost in its tracks.
Over the past few years, EU institutions have focused their efforts on developing a network of government leads on hate crime across the (still) 28 Member States. To date, The EU Fundamental Rights Agency has facilitated regular meetings in accordance with the rotating Presidency of the Council of the European Union, organised country visits to Member States to hear directly from working level colleagues about challenges and responses to hate crime, and produced a compendium of practices that counter hate crime from across the EU. The European Commission has significantly enhanced the profile and power of this work by bringing it into its High Level Group on Combating Racism, Xenophobia and other forms of intolerance. The group addresses the challenges of our time including anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and cyber-hate; challenges that know no borders like the one Brexit has re-drawn. At their best this group of policy makers, practitioners and NGOs seek to examine, create and adopt the best European level policies that ultimately protect the ordinary people who find themselves the target of bigotry and hatred on the streets of Europe.
The UK’s influence in shaping the European hate crime agenda – both high profile and behind the scenes – cannot be over estimated. Now it will be on the other side of another closed door.
Of course the UK will continue to have access to other international forums that work to tackle hate crime. Indeed the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, the Council of Europe and the UN actively work to address racism, xenophobia and other forms of hostility. However, these organisations are not underpinned by the combined strength of the EU Framework Decision on Racism and Xenophobia and the Victims Directive, the Commission’s significant funding programmes, or the regularity and focus of networking meetings where working level policy leads can informally and constructively share challenges and solutions to problems of hate and hostility, which far from going away, are becoming increasingly urgent.
Where next? This is the moment where the UK’s cutting edge policy, strategy and partnerships on hate crime are being put to the test. Brexit has unleashed a racism and xenophobia that, while surely always there, have been given new permission to raise their ugly heads. UK leaders need to keep hate crime high on their agenda and make good their promise to fund key agencies across the public and NGO sectors in their work to support victims, investigate and prosecute hate crimes, reassure communities and evidence the nature of hate and what really works to tackle it. And Europe will be watching.
I hope the Brexit negotiators respect and value the UK’s knowledge, leadership and expertise on hate crime and find ways for it to remain a part of the essential learning and sharing that makes Europe safer for everyone. Brexit has made this more difficult, but hopefully not impossible.