Tory leadership contender and Brexiteer Michael Gove has rejected the claims that the 2016 EU referendum led to an increase in hate crime, despite the Home Office reporting that it did.
Gove was speaking at an event organised by the Times when he was asked by columnist Rachel Sylvester if he was ashamed of the anti-immigration tone adopted by leading Brexiteers during the 2016 campaign.
She cited a retiring chief constable in West Yorkshire who had told the writer that “Brexit has enabled some people to feel able to behave and say things in a particular way.”
The Tory MP, who was co-chair of Vote Leave alongside Boris Johnson and Gisela Stuart, said he disagreed with the claims that there had been an increase in hate crime since then.
He said: “I would disagree with that. One of the things that is striking is that since the referendum result attitudes towards migration in Britain have changed.”
He continued: “Attitudes towards migration have changed. We are now the country in Europe with the most positive attitude towards migration.
“I remember talking to Ruth Davidson just before we were both speaking at the Scottish Conservative conference. And Ruth said to me: “I’m a Remainer down to my boots, but the one thing I do have to grant, Michael, is that your argument is right. If people feel they have control over migration, then their attitude towards it becomes more relaxed and liberal.”
While immigration has become less of an issue in polling since campaigning around the EU referendum ended, there has been a clear correlation between the referendum and a rise in hate crime.
A Home Office report in 2017 said: “The increase [in police recorded hate crime] over the last year is thought to reflect both a genuine rise in hate crime around the time of the EU referendum and also due to ongoing improvements in crime recording by the police.”
Another report a year later claimed that there were “spikes in hate crime following certain events such as the EU referendum”.