A Conservative MP has been criticised after he tweeted a picture of the George Floyd demonstration in London and said he hoped they “don’t blame the government if there’s a second spike” of the coronavirus.
Kevin Hollinrake told Yahoo News UK that, while he was not criticising the demonstrators’ reason for taking to the streets, there was “absolutely no justification” for anyone failing to observe social distancing rules.
Thousands of people took to the capital on Sunday to demonstrate following the 46-year-old’s death in the US.
Floyd died after a white Minneapolis police officer was seen pinning him to the ground by kneeling on his neck as he pleaded for air.
In response, anti-racism protests in the US and elsewhere have been held, including in London.
Demonstrations have taken place in dozens of cities, with criticism aimed at some who have set fire to cars and looted shops as peaceful protesters tried to get them to stop.
Multiple shootings amid the protests led to a death in Indianapolis, with deaths also reported in Detroit and Minneapolis in recent days.
Police handling of some of the protests has also been criticised.
Hollinrake, Conservative MP for Thirsk and Malton, tweeted a picture of the demonstration at Trafalgar Square and appeared to imply the protesters gathered risked sparking a resurgence of the virus.
Hope these people don’t blame the government if there’s a 2nd spike pic.twitter.com/NHltzYYDwB
— Kevin Hollinrake MP (@kevinhollinrake) May 31, 2020
His tweet was criticised, with some attacking the government’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak in response. The UK has the second highest official COVID-19 death toll in the world.
Labour MP Dawn Butler asked if he had said the same thing about crowds who have been gathering on beaches despite restrictions.
Don't you dare!
Don't even go there!
Have you said that about the people flocking to the beaches?
— I Can't Breathe...Dawn Butler MP (@DawnButlerBrent) June 1, 2020
Speaking to Yahoo News UK, Hollinrake said: “I would criticise anybody who didn’t socially distance, and that’s what I’m criticising.
“I’m certainly not criticising the reasons that people are protesting, not at all, it’s a horrendous situation in the US, and something needs to be done.
“My point was, really, whatever the justification, whatever the underlying reason why people decide to protest in any way they want to do, there’s absolutely no justification for not observing the social distancing rules.
“They’re there to protect everybody.”
Restrictions have eased for England slightly but limit gatherings to a maximum of six people outdoors. Government advice is to maintain a two-metre gap between those not in the same household but police have said this is not enforceable.
Hollinrake has previously backed the prime minister’s embattled adviser Dominic Cummings, who denied he broke lockdown rules when he travelled 260 miles to County Durham to self-isolate.
The Metropolitan Police said of the protests: “We would ask people to respect the regulations in relation to social distancing and help keep everyone as safe as possible.”
“Breaching the COVID legislation” was among the reasons 23 arrests were made on Sunday, the spokesman added.
Ahead of the protest, Black Lives Matter UK’s Twitter account expressed solidarity but said it was “discussing the implications” about marching during a pandemic.
We have no affiliation with the #LDNBLM group and any of the BLM London accounts. We are currently discussing the implications of calling a mass march in the middle of a pandemic that is killing us the most. Solidarity with our fam & siblings across the Globe. ✊🏾
— #BlackLivesMatterUK (@ukblm) May 30, 2020
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