Several historical monuments, including statues of Winston Churchill and Nelson Mandela in Parliament Square, as well as the Cenotaph in Whitehall, have been boarded up amid planned protests in London this weekend. In a strongly worded statement, Boris Johnson said ongoing anti-racism demonstrations had been “hijacked by extremists” and insisted it is “absurd and shameful” that a statue of Britain’s former Prime Minister and war-hero would be “at risk of attack”.
The Prime Minister acknowledged Mr Churchill was a divisive figure but insisted “we cannot now try to edit or censor our past” or “pretend to have a different history”.
A protective box was placed around Mr Churchill’s statue and a protective shield on the Cenotaph memorial, after several historical figures were taken down from public display around the UK and a further 60 others identified as targets by demonstrators.
The statue of Mr Churchill in the heart of Westminster had already been vandalised with the words “was a racist” during unrest in the capital last weekend.
The protests, sparked by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis in the US, saw clashes between protesters and police – while in Bristol a statue of 17th century slave trader Edward Colston was pulled down and dumped into a river.
Mr Johnson said: “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.
“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.
“They had different perspectives, different understandings of right and wrong. But those statues teach us about our past, with all its faults. To tear them down would be to lie about our history, and impoverish the education of generations to come.”
The Prime Minister insisted the UK has made “huge” progress in tackling discrimination but acknowledged there is “much more work to do”.
The 55-year-old insisted the “only responsible” decision would be to stay away from any demonstrations.
He added: “As for the planned demonstrations, 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.
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The statue of slave owner Robert Milligan was taken down from its plinth at West India Quay in London’s Docklands on Tuesday evening.
On Thursday, Guy’s and St Thomas’ hospitals in London announced it will remove two statues of their namesakes from public view due to their links to the slave trade.
According to the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) more than 130 people have been arrested as over 155,000 people across the UK took part in almost 200 demonstrations.
A total of 62 police officers have also been injured in the protests triggered by the death of George Floyd.