In Depth

Reaction: Boris Johnson tells Black Lives Matter protesters ‘I hear you’

PM calls for calm as Sadiq Khan orders review of London’s slavery-linked statues

 Boris Johnson has urged Britons to “work peacefully, lawfully to defeat racism”, as Black Lives Matter protesters take to the streets across the nation. 

In an article for black newspaper The Voice,  the prime minister said his government understood the “undeniable feeling of injustice” triggered by George Floyd's killing in Minneapolis, telling demonstrators: “I hear you.”

But while the UK has made “huge strides” in tackling discrimination in recent decades, the anti-racism cause risks being “undermined” by the minority of protesters who attack police and property, he added.

Johnson’s written call for peace - which he also read out in a video posted online - came as Home Secretary Priti Patel announced that an estimated 137,500 people attended the nationwide Black Lives Matter marches over the weekend.  

Condemning the toppling of a statue depicting slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol, the PM echoed Patel’s earlier warning that “those who attack public property or the police... will face the full force of the law”.

The Sun reports that Metropolitan Police arrested a total of 65 people on Saturday and Sunday, while “dozens of officers suffered injuries”.

Acknowledging that black Britons face discrimination “in education, in employment [and] in the application of the criminal law”, Johnson said that his government “simply can’t ignore those feelings because in too many cases... they will be founded on a cold reality”. 

However, his official spokesperson told The Independent that while “the prime minister doesn’t doubt that there continues to be discrimination and racism… he would not agree that this is a racist country”.

Labour has also supported the protesters’ cause but criticised the use of violence. 

Shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds told MPs on Monday that he “condemned those who have attacked the police”, adding: “I want to pay tribute to the police officers putting themselves in harm’s way.”

Meanwhile, Labour leader Keir Starmer said during an interview on LBC that protesters in Bristol had been “completely wrong” to pull down the Colston statue. But he added that the monument should have been removed “a long time ago”, arguing: “You can’t, in 21st century Britain, have a slaver on a statue.”

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The Labour mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has ordered a review of the statues in the capital, “with a view to removing those with links to slavery and plantation owners”, The Guardian reports.

The order comes as hundreds of BLM protesters are expected to rally in Oxford today to call for the removal of a statue of British imperialist and mining magnate Cecil Rhodes at Oriel College. 

Khan’s Commission for Diversity in the Public Realm will consider all of London’s landmarks – including plaques and the names of streets and public buildings  – to ensure they reflect the city’s diversity. 

“The Black Lives Matter protests have rightly brought this to the public’s attention, but it’s important that we take the right steps to work together to bring change and ensure that we can all be proud of our public landscape,” Khan said.

In a bid to further “defuse tensions and address fury over disproportionate police action”, says The Guardian, he has also ordered a Met Police review of practices such as stop and search that have been found to be used disproportionately to target black, Asian and minority ethnic people.

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