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Cardinal Nichols: ‘Upsurge in racism following Brexit vote must not be tolerated’

Cardinal Vincent Nichols (PA)

Cardinal Vincent Nichols has said that any upsurge in racism following Britain’s vote to leave the European Union must be stamped out.

Following last Thursday’s referendum result, a number of incidents have been reported across the country, including offensive graffiti scrawled on a Polish cultural centre in London and the holding up of banner by National Front supporters in Newcastle calling for the repatriation of immigrants.

The National Police Chiefs’ Council revealed that of 85 complaints of hate crime were received between June 23, the day of the referendum on United Kingdom membership in the EU, and June 26.

The figure represented a 57 per cent increase in such offenses in a similar period just a month earlier.

Cardinal Nichols, who is president of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, released a statement on Tuesday in which he said “we all need to reflect on what has been a tumultuous few days and ponder what is needed now.”

“Firstly, I am very conscious of the Polish community in Hammersmith or of people confronted by banners in Newcastle,” he said.

“This upsurge of racism, of hatred towards others is something we must not tolerate. We have to say this is simply not acceptable in a humane society and it should never be provoked or promoted.”

The Archbishop of Westminster added that “racism and hatred must never be tolerated, but there is no need for fear.”

“We always place our lives at the foot of the cross; in the hands of Jesus. We have an important job in defining the horizon against which we live and that is where the profound values we seek to embody really come to life: when we see ourselves living in the presence of God, living with that transcendent horizon,” he said.

The cardinal also said that “every leader needs to reflect on our failure to listen and to give voice to those who feel voiceless”, adding that “our purpose must be our common good, the good of all with no one excluded.”

He said that “the great challenge for those leading the nation now is to speak for everyone”.

“If a victory in a referendum remains a point of division, then we become weaker and weaker as a nation and not play a part in the international scene tackling the world’s problems, which are great and challenging,” Cardinal Nichols said.

On June 28, a German woman who has lived in Britain since the 1970s wept as she told LBC London radio that she was too scared to leave her house three days after dog excrement was thrown at her windows.

She said: “My neighbors told me that they don’t want me living in this road and that they are not friends with foreigners.”

“My friend … has a grandson who is 7 and who was beaten up because he has a foreign grandmother,” she added.

Britain has been a primary destination for many citizens of poorer EU countries, with annual net migration reaching 330,000 people a year. Many of the migrants to the U.K. are Catholics from Central Europe, Asia and Africa.

Bishop Philip Egan of Portsmouth told Catholic News Service that, in his diocese, there were “huge numbers of immigrants from Poland, Kerala (India), the Philippines and Nigeria.”

“I am extremely sad to think of violence against foreign people who are living here,” he said. “There is no justification whatsoever for that. Many of these immigrants are already beloved members of our communities. They have contributed to local life and organisations.

“Britain has always, through the centuries, been a country which has assimilated people from abroad, and they have taken on our values, and also they have made us proud because they have made a great success of it.”

He added: “Both materially and spiritually, the vast majority of people who are working here and in our diocese are making a wonderful contribution. To think of violence against them is self-destructive. It is self-harm. We are harming ourselves as much as we are inflicting division and suffering on others.”

Bishop Declan Lang of Clifton, the diocese based in Bristol, also issued a statement telling Catholics that it was important “to work for the common good and not create barriers of division and prejudice.”

“We should have a profound respect for one another, and this should be reflected in the way we speak and behave,” said the statement posted on the diocesan website on June 27.

“We need to keep in mind the needs of all citizens, particularly those who may feel marginalised at this present moment, and continue to be a tolerant society, free of racial and religious prejudice,” he said.

Concerns over the phenomenon of mass migration had helped to fuel efforts to take Britain out of the EU in a referendum won by the Leave campaigners, with the public voting 52-48 percent to withdraw from the bloc.

Prime Minister David Cameron, who had fought for the UK to remain inside the EU, announced his resignation June 24.

In the weeks before the referendum, national newspapers such as the Mail on Sunday had exposed how far-right nationalists, including neo-Nazis, had been actively campaigning on the Leave side.

Witold Sobkow, Poland’s ambassador to the UK, expressed shock at the surge in xenophobic abuse.

Cameron told the House of Commons on June 27 that such crimes must be stamped out. “We will not stand for hate crime or these kinds of attacks,” he said.