A Home Office report in 2017 said the increase was “thought to reflect both a genuine rise in hate crime around the time of the EU referendum and also due to ongoing improvements in crime recording by the police”.
And Dee Collins, the former head of West Yorkshire police, also pointed to a link, saying recently: “Brexit has enabled some people to feel able to behave and say things in a particular way.”
Mr Gove was one of the architects of the Vote Leave campaign, which stoked fears about Turkish immigration by claiming the Muslim country could join the EU by 2020.
There were almost 80,400 hate crimes recorded in 2016-17, after the referendum – a 29 per cent rise from the previous year and the largest annual increase since records began in 2011.
But, asked if he was now ashamed that the anti-immigration focus of the campaign had led to a spike in hate crime, Mr Gove replied: “I would disagree with that.
“One of the things that is striking is that since the referendum result attitudes towards migration in Britain have changed.”
And, when it was put it to him again that hate crime had risen, the environment secretary said: “I would contest that too. Attitudes towards migration have changed.”
Mr Gove has previously hinted at regret about his past involvement in the campaign, when he himself claimed Turkey joining the EU was a security risk.
“I would have to go back and look at everything I said and think whether that was the right response at the right time. There is a sense at the back of my mind that we didn’t get everything absolutely right,” he said, last year.
But, speaking to an event hosted by The Times, he strongly defended Vote Leave, saying: “You can always run any campaign better. I could certainly have run aspects of past leadership campaigns better.
“But the argument that we made was that our migration policy should be based not on an arbitrary target, ‘tens of thousands’, but on what was right for our economy, and that simply because somebody happened to be a citizen of Bulgaria rather than Bangladesh, that should not mean that they should automatically have an advantage.”
Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary has also highlighted a spike in hate crimes after the referendum – while also warning of a repeat if Brexit goes ahead.
“Incidents of hate crime ‘spike’ after national events,” it said in a report last year.
“So, there is a real possibility that there will be a similar increase in reports in 2019 if, as is anticipated by the government, the United Kingdom formally leaves the European Union.”
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