British Prime Minister Boris Johnson decried attacks against a London statue memorialising Sir Winston Churchill and said anti-racism protests in Britain have been “hijacked by extremists”.
Writing on Twitter the prime minister addressed the Black Lives Matter protests, which have spread from the United States to Britain and across Europe. Mr Johnson said it was “absurd and shameful” that the statue to Britain’s wartime leader had to be covered up because of a risk of attack.
The statue to Churchill outside the UK Parliament, like other memorials in central London including the cenotaph, have been boarded up by authorities as they attempt to mitigate damage to landmarks vandalised during recent anti-racism protests.
The memorials have been vandalised by demonstrators who say they are symbols of Britain’s racist past. The statues have also become flashpoints for potential violence as right-wing groups have vowed to defend 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,” the Mr Johnson wrote.
“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,” Mr Johnson added, saying the responsible course of action was for people to stay away from planned coming demonstrations.
After protests broke out in the US condemning the killing of George Floyd, a black man, in Minnesota, Britain has been swept by solidarity demonstrations. On Sunday, protesters in the west of the country toppled a statue memorialising 17th century slave-trader Edward Colston.
At the same time, the statue to Churchill was vandalised with graffiti calling the former prime minister a racist. The wartime leader’s detractors have pointed to remarks he made about Africans and Native Americans as well as policies in the 1940s that led to the Bengal famine in which three million people died.
In recent statements, Mr Johnson and the UK government have declared their sympathy for the protesters but urged people to stay away from gatherings in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
The protests have sparked debate in Britain about its slave-trading past with scores of monuments across the country now identified for removal.
London's Labour mayor and Labour-led local councils have said they will conduct a review of all local statues to consider whether they should be removed.