UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has vowed to resist any attempt to remove the statue of Winston Churchill from Parliament Square after it was vandalised during ongoing protests.
Writing in The Daily Telegraph in response to the row over the removal of public monuments, triggered by the anti-racism demonstrations that have spilled over from the US after the death of black man George Floyd in police detention, Johnson warned against efforts to “photoshop” his country’s complex cultural history, and suggested that trying to do so would be a “distortion” of the past.
“We need to address the present, not attempt to rewrite the past – and that means we cannot and must not get sucked into never-ending debate about which well-known historical figure is sufficiently pure or politically correct to remain in public view,” writes the UK Prime Minister.
Johnson, who authored a biography of Winston Churchill in 2014, adds:
“If we start purging the record and removing the images of all but those whose attitudes conform to our own, we are engaged in a great lie, a distortion of our history – like some public figure furtively trying to make themselves look better.”
Referring to the decision of London Mayor Sadiq Khan to cover up with protective scaffolding such at-risk landmarks as the Cenotaph and statues of Winston Churchill and Nelson Mandela ahead of predicted weekend clashes between Black Lives Matter protesters and those seeking to protect the monuments, Johnson said:
“What has the world come to when one of this country's greatest-ever leaders – perhaps our greatest – has to be shielded from the wrath of the mob?”
While acknowledging that Britain should do more on the issue of racism, the Prime Minister said that a cross-government commission would be set up to look into inequality.
Earlier, Johnson had been quoted by reporters as saying he wanted to “change the narrative” and “stop the sense of victimisation and discrimination”.
“We stamp out racism and we start to have a real sense of expectation of success. That's where I want to get to but it won't be easy,” said Boris Johnson.
Monuments Take a Hit
Earlier, London's mayor Sadiq Khan was slammed for “surrendering” the capital's streets “to the mob” over a decision on Thursday to board up the monument to Winston Churchill at Parliament Square and the nearby Cenotaph statue ahead of anti-racism protests slated for Saturday.
The move came after the bronze statue to Churchill was spray-painted with the words ‘was a racist’ during demonstrations the previous weekend, while a protester attempted to set a union flag on fire on the Cenotaph.
Boris Johnson’s remarks followed a day marred by violence amid protests in London, with Black Lives Matter demonstrators and counter-protesters clashing in the capital on Saturday.
As police attempted to keep the two groups apart, they had missiles, smoke grenades, bottles and flares hurled at them.
Six police officers sustained injuries, while over 100 people were arrested in events that Johnson condemned as “racist thuggery”.
Racist thuggery has no place on our streets. Anyone attacking the police will be met with full force of the law. These marches & protests have been subverted by violence and breach current guidelines. Racism has no part in the UK and we must work together to make that a reality.— Boris Johnson #StayAlert (@BorisJohnson) June 13, 2020
The Metropolitan Police had earlier set a 5 p.m. curfew and warned people joining demonstrations on Saturday they risked being arrested for violating it.
The violence was also condemned by the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan and Home Secretary Priti Patel, with the latter calling it “thoroughly unacceptable thuggery”.