The country has failed to learn the lessons from the Bradford riots 15 years ago, according to the author of a major report on race relation in the city.
Lord Herman Ouseley complained his recommendations for a more cohesive society have been abandoned as the Government instead focussed on terrorism and radicalisation.
Lord Ouseley, who was the chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality from 1993-2000, had researched and compiled his report ahead of the night of rioting on July 7, 2001 but it was released the same month and was pored over for clues to the sources of the disturbances.
He said: “We had a bit of wildfire across northern towns such as Bradford, Burnley and Oldham.
“My conclusion was that there was a lot of segregation in our towns and while some of that was what some people wanted, it was mostly driven by the fact that communities were separated.
“But that same year we had 9/11 of course, and after that race went right down the agenda because suddenly we were more concerned with terrorism and radicalisation.”
Lord Ouseley is now concerned by some of the language that was used during the EU referendum campaign and the increase in reports of racist and xenophobic abuse following the decision.
At the weekend the British Bangladesh Cultural Academy cancelled its planned Eid al-Fitr event in Southampton because of a threatened march by the right-wing South Coast Resistance group.
Lord Ouseley said: “One would hope we wouldn’t get into that situation any more.
“The one thing that’s always difficult in race relations is predicting what’s going to happen. I’m always an optimist, but at the moment with everything that’s happened I don’t feel very optimistic. If you get too optimistic you get complacent; there was a lot of complacency in 2001.”
He added: “Throughout the referendum campaign there were messages, some subliminal, some not so, about how we need our country back, how people are coming over here, undercutting us for jobs, taking benefits.
“We’ve been fed a daily diet of this on the front pages. That has made some people feel empowered to say whatever they like, to express themselves in hateful ways, which they are doing. And as a result we have seen xenophobia and racist violence intensified.
“I don’t think we have learned enough lessons from what happened in Bradford in 2001. We respond with good intentions to incidents like that but we quickly move on and forget about it. But we have got to be bold, we have got to build on our strengths.
“The more we can show people the benefits of coming together and being together then we have more chance of moving forward. But it has to be done from a regulatory framework, it has to be done through education.”
He added: “The most important thing is that we have to invest in the next generation, we have to work with young people and bring them together to build a strong, cohesive, dynamic, multicultural society.”