Johnson deplores ‘shameful’ boarding up of Churchill statue

Black Lives Matter protest in London cancelled to avoid confrontation with far-right groups

Police and far-right protesters - from groups such as the English Defence League and Britain First - have clashed in London after demonstrators gathered to protect statues from efforts to deface or topple them. Video: Anadolu Agency

 

Boris Johnson has described as “absurd and shameful” the boarding up of a statue of Winston Churchill as police in London fear clashes on Saturday between anti-racism demonstrators and far-right thugs.

The Black Lives Matter campaign group brought forward to Friday a demonstration planned for Saturday to avoid a confrontation with far-right groups including the Football Lads Alliance and Britain First, who are planning to gather near Churchill’s statue on Parliament Square.

London mayor Sadiq Khan ordered the boarding up of Churchill’s statue, along with those of of George Washington and King James II on Trafalgar Square and the Cenotaph war memorial on Whitehall.

In a series of tweets on Friday, Mr Johnson acknowledged that some of Churchill’s views, which included white supremacism, were unacceptable but said his signal achievement in fighting Hitler outweighed them.

“The statue of Winston Churchill in Parliament Square is a permanent reminder of his achievement in saving this country – and the whole of Europe – from a fascist and racist tyranny. It is absurd and shameful that this national monument should today be at risk of attack by violent protestors. Yes, he sometimes expressed opinions that were and are unacceptable to us today, but he was a hero, and he fully deserves his memorial,” he said.

“We cannot now try to edit or censor our past. We cannot pretend to have a different history. The statues in our cities and towns were put up by previous generations. We all understand the legitimate feelings of outrage at what happened in Minnesota and the legitimate desire to protest against discrimination.

“Whatever progress this country has made in fighting racism – and it has been huge – we all recognise that there is much more work to do. The only responsible course of action is to stay away from these protests.”

Labour’s shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds called on the prime minister to take control of the national response to the crisis, warning that far-right extremists would try to exploit tensions to advance their divisive ends.

“The prime minister should be showing national leadership, by co-ordinating the Government’s response to the complex issues underpinning these protests. This means recognising the deep hurt so many Black people in our country have spoken so powerfully about and setting our steps for meaningful action against racism in our country. This is a powerful moment in our history and it is important the prime minister is not found to be wanting,” he said.