Boris Johnson has said tearing down statues amounts to “lying about our history” and that it is “absurd and shameful” for a monument to Winston Churchill to be boarded-up ahead of expected protests this weekend.
The prime minister said the wartime leader’s statue is “a permanent reminder of his achievement in saving this country – and the whole of Europe – from a fascist and racist tyranny.”
“We cannot now try to edit or censor our past,” he tweeted. “We cannot pretend to have a different history.”
Sharing the full story, not just the headlines
Mr Johnson added that the “only responsible action” was to stay away from planned protests this weekend.
“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,” he wrote.
“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.
“But it is clear that the protests have been sadly hijacked by extremists intent on violence. The attacks on the police and indiscriminate acts of violence which we have witnessed over the last week are intolerable and they are abhorrent.
“The only responsible course of action is to stay away from these protests.”
A protective box was placed around the statue in Parliament Square after it was targeted during Black Lives Matter protests last weekend.
It was vandalised with the words “Was a racist”, while the Cenotaph, which has also now been protected with hoarding, was also targeted.
The protests, sparked by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis in the US, saw clashes between protesters and police in London, while in Bristol a statue of slave trader Edward Colston was pulled down and dumped in the harbour.
The latest news on Brexit, politics and beyond direct to your inbox
Register with your social account or click here to log in
Asked about the fate of other monuments, such as the slave trader Robert Milligan in London and scouts founder Robert Baden-Powell in Dorset, a spokesman for the prime minister said Mr Johnson’s referred to the “statues in our cities and towns”.
The spokesman said: “As he said earlier this week, there are democratic processes for this sort of thing and that’s what should be followed.”
Pressed on whether the prime minister would apologise for his own controversial comments on ethnic minorities, the spokesman said Mr Johnson’s past remarks were “addressed during the election campaign campaign”.
The spokesman would not be drawn on whether streaming services were right to withdraw controversial TV programmes from their platforms, after UKTV removed an episode of the classic 1970s sitcom Fawlty Towers.
Additional reporting by PA