The Prime Minister has been urged to show leadership in dealing with racism in the UK, as tweets he sent about Winston Churchill’s statue were branded a “deflection”.
A total of 113 people were arrested on Saturday at a far-right protest in London, which was condemned by Boris Johnson as “racist thuggery” and described as “mindless hooliganism” by police.
A 28-year-old was arrested on suspicion of outraging public decency after a man was photographed apparently urinating next to the memorial dedicated to Pc Keith Palmer, the officer who was stabbed to death in the 2017 terror attack in Westminster.
Twenty-three police officers were injured in violent clashes as several hundred demonstrators, mostly white men, attended the protest organised by far-right groups which claimed they wanted to protect statues such as that of Churchill from vandalism.
But the demonstration turned violent after hundreds of self-proclaimed “statue defenders” took over areas near the Houses of Parliament and Trafalgar Square and hurled missiles, smoke grenades, glass bottles and flares at police officers.
Shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said he was “extremely disturbed” by the “completely unacceptable” scenes of violence on the streets on Saturday.
He said Mr Johnson needs to set out “concrete steps” to address “the inequality and racism that still sadly exists in our country”.
The Torfaen Labour MP told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge On Sunday show: “The Government needs to show leadership on the inequality and racism that still sadly exists in our country, and by that I mean the Prime Minister.
“The Prime Minister needs to come forward, show that he understands the hurt and the anguish of the stories that black people in our country have spoken about so movingly in recent weeks, and also to set out the concrete steps that his Government now intends to take to address that.”
Racist thuggery has no place on our streets. Anyone attacking the police will be met with full force of the law. These marches & protests have been subverted by violence and breach current guidelines. Racism has no part in the UK and we must work together to make that a reality.
— Boris Johnson #StayAlert (@BorisJohnson) June 13, 2020
Mr Thomas-Symonds also said there has been a “chronic failure of political leadership” by the Government in addressing the Windrush scandal.
“In its first year of operation, it has only compensated 60 people to a total of £360,000.
“Now of course I’m pleased for those 60 people, but we’re talking about thousands of people who were wronged over generations.
“That such a small number has been compensated – only that number – is a chronic failure of political leadership. The Government needs to focus, it needs to step up to the plate and it needs to act,” he said.
Mr Thomas-Symonds also said he would back the Government in creating a specific offence against damaging war memorials and that he would work cross-party to support such efforts in Parliament.
Meanwhile, shadow justice secretary David Lammy said Mr Johnson’s tweets about the Churchill statue were a “deflection”.
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. 1/8
— Boris Johnson #StayAlert (@BorisJohnson) June 12, 2020
In a series of eight tweets on Friday, Mr Johnson said to take statues down would be to “lie about our history”.
He tweeted: “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.”
Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, Tottenham Labour MP Mr Lammy said: “Boris Johnson sent out eight tweets, I think it was, on Friday on Winston Churchill and statues.
“He’s never tweeted eight times in a day on coronavirus, he’s never tweeted eight times in a day on the Windrush review or what he’s going to do about it, or on the review that David Cameron asked me to do on disproportionality in the criminal justice system and what he’s going to do about it.
“This feels to me like a bit of a deflection. Let’s get to the action, let’s have some substance, let’s do something about these historic injustices that still exist in our country.”
The 113 arrests in London were for offences including breach of the peace, violent disorder, assault on officers, possession of an offensive weapon, possession of class A drugs and being drunk and disorderly.
Commander Bas Javid, of the Metropolitan Police, said: “The scenes officers encountered across central London yesterday were utterly shocking. Once again, they were pelted with missiles, or challenged by groups of men intent on violence.
“Mindless hooliganism such as this is totally unacceptable and I am pleased arrests were made. We will now work closely with the courts in pursuit of justice.”
The violent scenes in Westminster contrasted with peaceful demonstrations that took place at Hyde Park and Marble Arch by anti-racism protesters in support of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement.
Meanwhile in the US, the police department in Atlanta said an officer had been sacked following the fatal shooting of a black man, and another officer has been placed on administrative duty.
The killing of 27-year-old Rayshard Brooks on Friday night has sparked a new wave of protests.