A boxed-up statue of Sir Winston Churchill in London could be released from its confinement by Thursday when President Emmanuel Macron awards the city France’s highest honour for the protection it gave French citizens during the Second World War.
The statue of the wartime prime minister was hidden from view last week amid warnings it could face further defacement as Black Lives Matter protests and counter-demonstrations spread following the death of George Floyd in the US.
“Was a racist” had already been scrawled on the monument to a man regarded as one of Britain’s greatest heroes by many but also a personification of the UK’s colonial past by some. Statues representing the country’s history of slavery and colonialism have come under attack.
Churchill’s attitudes towards minorities have been criticised and he has been blamed for the deaths of millions during the Bengal famine in 1943, in British India. He once said he was “strongly in favour of using poison gas against uncivilised tribes”.
Mr Macron is set to give the Legion of Honour to London 80 years after French leader Charles de Gaulle called, from London, on France to rise up against the German occupation by the Nazis.
A senior Greater London Authority representative told The Telegraph newspaper there was a "very firm expectation" the protective box would come down ahead of Mr Macron's visit, which appears to be going ahead despite the coronavirus outbreak.
But the statue could still be boarded up again if authorities decide that risks remain. London Mayor Sadiq Khan had defended hiding the figure from view, saying it “may be a flashpoint for violence”. Far-right protesters claiming to be protecting the statue and demonstrating in support of Churchill clashed with police at the weekend.
Sir Nicholas Soames, Churchill’s grandson and a former MP, said it was “very good news and the correct judgement” that the boarding was to be removed.
He had earlier described the defacing of his grandfather’s statue and the Cenotaph, Britain’s national war memorial, as “disgusting”.
“These people who are marching did not set out to do this, but a very, very small, extremely explosive group of people who have made a practice of hijacking entirely responsible demonstrations are behaving in an unspeakable and cowardly manner,” he had said.
“It feels like a society that has lost its compass.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has pledged to protect Churchill’s statue and described the attack on it as “absurd and deplorable”. He has also set up a racial inequality commission.