Brexit is "potentially disastrous" for speakers of minority languages such as Scots, Gaelic, Welsh and Irish, campaigners have warned.

The European Language Equality Network (ELEN) said the EU helped to shield minority tongues from member states including the United Kingdom, which have previously sought to eradicate them.

The group - a continent-wide umbrella body for groups championing lesser-used languages - also warned of the key role the EU plays in funding both minority languages themselves and the areas where they are spoken.

Britain - under Labour - signed the European Charter on Minority languages formally recognising Gaelic and Scots as languages and guaranteeing to protect them.

In a joint letter, ELEN said leaving the EU would leave speakers of minority languages "at the mercy of governments that have shown neither the interest nor the desire to protect and promote the rights of speakers of our nations and regions’ languages, and have throughout much of our shared history conducted aggressive language policies designed to eradicate our languages".

The letter's individual signatories include Michael Hance of the Scots Language Centre first set up by the Tories in the 1990s and champions of Welsh, Irish, Cornish and Gaelic.

It continued: "The EU has been, and can be further still, a great bastion of hope for the minoritised languages of our countries.

"We fear that Brexit would lead to an insecure future for our communities, as the UK Government’s recent abolition of funding for the Cornish language demonstrates.

"Being a part of a heterogeneous European Union with its robust congregation of minority and majority cultures allows for a better understanding and protection of our own languages. The indirect effect of Brexit on our languages is potentially disastrous.

"The continued sustainability and viability of our languages is closely linked to the economic health of the communities which speak these languages."

The EU has funded regional development in several areas where languages such as Welsh, Irish and Gaelic are most spoken. Brexiteers argue that the UK is a net contributor to the EU and that British authorities, not EU ones, should decide how such money is spent.

ELEN Secretary-General Davyth Hicks said: "A Brexit is potentially disastrous for our language communities which are already under severe pressure because of lack of decent employment, affordable housing, and out migration.

"It would cut us off from the EU human rights mechanisms, expose our nations to right-wing Little Englander policies, plus remove the safety net of structural funds which helps to create jobs for 1000s of Celtic language speakers."

Some language watchers detected an increase in vocal prejudice, including on social media, against both Scots and Gaelic during and after the Scottish independence referendum. UKIP