The work of a regional anti hate-crime campaign launched by MEPs must not be lost when Britain leaves the European Union, a prominent multi-faith gathering heard.

 

West Midlands Together had quickly established a track record for championing an open and tolerant society and promoting harmony and understanding, said founder Anthea McIntyre MEP.

 

Miss McIntyre, Conservative MEP for the West Midlands, told the interfaith service at the Al-Mahdi Institute, Weoly Park Road, Birmingham, that the region had a proud record of welcoming people from across the world.

 

They had settled here and contributed greatly to our society, she said: "But in the aftermath of the EU referendum we saw a substantial increase in reported hate crime. And this exposed an undercurrent of xenophobia and racism in parts of our society, which I felt had to be tackled."

 

Miss McIntyre told how she invited Labour MEP colleague Neena Gill in November 2016 to co-chair West Midlands Together, with senior Liberal Democrats also joining the steering committee in a fully cross-party initiative.

 

It brought together representatives of the mainstream political parties, BAME communities, Police and Crime Commissioners, local government, universities, and the West Midlands Mayor.   

 

She said: "We are here to advance an open, tolerant and inclusive society...and to propose practical solutions to better ensure lasting harmony between people, irrespective of their geographic background or cultural tradition."

 

The interfaith service was titled "Creating a City of Peace Together" and commemorated the victims of recent attacks on religious services in New Zealand and Sri Lanka.

 

Miss McIntyre counted a series of conferences and awareness-raising events among the campaign's achievements and said:  "Our youth conference in Birmingham was a particular success. Sixth forms and colleges across the region were invited to take part and produced artwork, poetry, songs, posters and videos. Very inspiring presentations resulted and we hope to hold another conference this year.

 

"The challenge now is to keep this initiative going after Brexit when we no longer have MEPs and their offices to provide administrative support."

 

She said it was vital that political parties should continue to unite against all hate crime to bring the West Midlands Together, and she stressed:  "I am determined we will keep it going for as long as there is a need."