Cross-Party campaign launched against racism

Politicians from across the political spectrum joined community leaders, academics and police representatives today to launch a campaign to challenge racism and promote tolerance as Britain leaves the EU.

West Midlands Together has been formed following a spike in incidents of racism and hate crime in the wake of the June referendum vote to leave the European Union.

It is the initiative of two West Midlands MEPs, Conservative Anthea McIntyre and Labour's Neena Gill, backed by former Liberal Democrat MP Baroness Burt of Solihull.

The launch meeting in Birmingham appointed a steering group comprising Miss McIntyre, Ms Gill, West Mercia's Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner Tracey Onslow, Andrew Roadnight of the University of Warwick, Martin Levermore of Birmingham Commonwealth Association and Alicja Kaczmarek of the Birmingham-based Polish Expats Association.

They will plan a series of events all across the region to explore how to promote an open, tolerant and inclusive society and seek practical ways of securing harmony between people irrespective of their background or cultural tradition.

Ms Gill said: "In the West Midlands, the two weeks before the referendum saw a spike in hate crime and after the vote they shot up by half again.  

"We need an action plan, but the only way you can do that is with accurate information. We must be sure that crimes are recorded properly."

She said Eastern European people tended to be particularly vulnerable because they did not have the long-established support networks of black and Asian communities.

Mrs Onslow said the West Mercia force produced regular report on hate crime and it was a priority shared by police ad the commissioner who wished to encourage victims to come forward.

Mr Levermore said the initiative was long overdue: "We need widespread public support. Without that public awareness these things will just carry on.

Ms Kaczmarek said members of the Polish community felt increasingly isolated after the Brexit vote and problems even extended to the school playground where youngsters were experiencing bullying.

Dr Roadnight said Warwick University welcomed the launch and would help however it could, by hosting meetings and potentially by offering research.

After the meeting, Miss McIntyre said: "This is a hugely encouraging start. Opposing racism isn't about left and right, it's about right and wrong.

"Some people seem to have taken the Brexit vote as an excuse to treat other people badly. It did no such thing.

"The vast majority in the West Midlands are tolerant, welcoming and warm-hearted people who celebrate difference instead of exploiting it. As a majority we must come together to show this behaviour is unacceptable."