Anti-immigrant tension has increased since Brexit vote, says Irish man in Britain

An Irish man living in Britain says Brexit has heightened tensions and caused considerable concern about anti-immigrant sentiment.

Emmett Polland, 31, originally from Derry, now lives in Wolverhampton with his young son and partner, and says that since the referendum, tensions are running high as hate crime increases.

Hate crime offences recorded by the police rose by 17% to 94,098 in the 12 months to March 2018, figures for England and Wales have shown.

This is an increase of 123% since 2012-13, which saw 42,255 hate crimes recorded.

The UK Home Office noted that the statistics saw “spikes in hate crime following certain events such as the EU referendum and the terrorist attacks in 2017”.

Mr Polland says he had never experienced any anti-Irish abuse before the referendum, but has since encountered a number of incidents.

“The amount of racial abuse has risen,” he said.

“I’ve dealt with a few incidents in the last few months, I was told in a pub to ‘f*** off, back to Ireland’, a while back.

Emmett Polland with his son Ruairi, then two, voting in the Brexit referendum (Emmett Polland/PA)

“On Saturday, I was on a train when a guy who was returning from the People’s Vote march struck up a conversation with me.

“We were chatting about Brexit generally and the effect on Northern Ireland, when another man approached us and passed me a note which said ‘Get over it, you lost’.

“When I said ‘What’s this?’ he replied: ‘Your days are numbered’ with a few added slurs, and got off the train.

“I’d never experienced anything like that before.

“You hear it often now, people are sharing stories of what happened to them in the pub or whatever.

I've found that people aren't shy any more about expressing their views any more, they're happy to publicly spout their reasons for voting Leave and it tends to be about immigration

“I’ve found that people aren’t shy any more about expressing their views any more, they’re happy to publicly spout their reasons for voting Leave and it tends to be about immigration.”

The backstop and the Irish border has remained a sticking point in Brexit negotiations and caused deadlock in the House of Commons as MPs try to grapple with their responsibilities under the Good Friday Agreement, and Northern Ireland sharing a border with the Republic of Ireland, when the UK leaves the EU.

Mr Polland says it has become clear over the last months that Ireland, north or south, was never given any thought by Brexiteers.

“I voted to remain, despite my issues with the European Union, because I grew up in Northern Ireland,” he said.

“I’ve experienced checkpoints, and seeing those checkpoints dismantled, we travel easily over the border now, and we take it for granted.

“I never wanted to go back to any conflict or any border on the island of Ireland.

“London is a diverse city, its strength is in its diversity, and I know the EU membership is part of that.

“When the results came out, we were all in a state of shock.

“I’ve got a friend from Bulgaria who has been here for seven years, studied here and started his own business, contributing, and now he is jumping through hoops trying to get some kind of settled status.

“I’ve had to apply for an Irish passport for my son, I owe it to him to give him freedom of movement and dual nationality.

“My son is one of the lucky few that will have the best of both worlds.

“That’s the only solace really, his future has been jeopardised by lies, and now he’s got the option with an Irish passport to work or study abroad.

“I don’t think anybody was thinking about Northern Ireland when they voted out.

“That’s my biggest concern, no-one gave any thought to Northern Ireland until the backstop was brought up.”

The Office for National Statistics says there is an average of almost 400,000 people born in Ireland living in the UK.

- Press Association

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