London Mayor Sadiq Khan has urged Londoners on both sides of the Brexit debate to respect one another’s views and unify against hate crime and racial intolerance.
Since Britain voted to leave the European Union last week there have been reports in national, local media and on social media of racial attacks and other hate crimes.
In London the most high profile of these was the defacing of the Polish Social and Cultural Association building in Hammersmith, an incident which is being investigated by Metropolitan Police officers.
Mr Khan said it was “really important we stand guard against any rise in hate crimes or abuse by those who might use last week’s referendum as cover to seek to divide us” and revealed he had asked the Met “to be extra vigilant for any rise in cases of hate crime”.
He added: “While I’m Mayor, addressing hate crimes will be a priority for the Met. We will have a zero-tolerance approach to any attempt to hurt and divide our communities.”
Despite the mayor’s comments City Hall says it does not yet have any figures to suggest hate crime has increased since the Leave vote, with a spokesperson saying: “The Mayor’s message is to come together and stand against hate crime, but we are not suggesting there has been any increase.”
In addition to the attacks on members of minority communities, the past few days has seen angry comments directed at Leave supporters, many of who have been accused of racism because of their decision to quit the EU.
However Mr Khan said this behaviour was wrong, commenting: “It’s also crucial that we don’t demonise the 1.5 million people in London who voted for Brexit.
“While I and millions of others disagreed with their decision, they took it for a variety of reasons and this shouldn’t be used to accuse them of being xenophobic or racist.
“We must respect their decision and work together now to get the best deal for London”
The mayor’s comments have been echoed by Gareth Bacon AM, Conservative leader on the London Assembly, who said: “It is so important that the tens of thousands of European migrants who work and live in London do not feel marginalised by the Referendum result.
“We have thrived as a city because of our diversity. It is not right for anyone to treat the Referendum result as an excuse for racist and hateful behaviour.”
“It is more important than ever before that our European neighbours feel welcome here. Londoners of all backgrounds and political persuasions must come together as the UK takes this important step towards independence.”
Last week the mayor called for his office to be represented at the UK’s Government talks with the devolved administrations on the future of UK/EU relations.