Britain's race-relations watchdog says racists are using the country's vote to leave the European Union to legitimize their hatred.

Police forces reported a rise in reports of hate crimes in the aftermath of Britain's June 23 vote to quit the EU, after a campaign that focused heavily on the drawbacks and benefits of immigration.

In a report released Thursday, the Equality and Human Rights Commission said Britain's "hard-worn reputation for tolerance is arguably facing its greatest threat for decades, as those who spread hate use the 'leave' result to legitimize their views."

The report says ethnic-minority Britons face entrenched inequality in areas including education, employment, housing, pay, health and criminal justice. It says government attempts to improve the situation have been "piecemeal and stuttering," and called for a greater effort.