Black MPs accuse the Government of 'real ignorance' of racism

Black MPs accuse the Government of ‘real ignorance’ of racism after Matt Hancock said UK is ‘not a racist country’ and Black Lives Matter protests in Britain are just a reaction to the murder of George Floyd in the US

  • Shadow justice secretary David Lammy attacked comments by Matt Hancock
  • Health Secretary suggest protests ‘in response to events in America’ 
  • Lammy said comment showed ‘shows real ignorance’  amid heightened tensions

The Government has been accused of ‘real ignorance’ of racism in Britain after  demonstrations which have left police officers bloodied and a slaver statue torn down.

Shadow Justice Secretary David Lammy lashed out at what he said was the suggestion that the Black Lives Matter demonstrations in London, Bristol and other cities were simply a reaction to the murder of George Floyd.

He demanded that ministers accept that  ‘racism and prejudice exist in the United Kingdom as well as the United States’, amid heightened tensions.

Unrest in London yesterday saw eight police officers hurt and a statue of Winston Churchill vandalised, while in Bristol, a statue of 17th century slave trader Edward Colston was torn down and thrown into the harbour. 

And Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer weighed in to the controversy this morning saying that while it was ‘completely wrong’ for the statue to have been hauled down, the Victorian piece ‘should have been taken down a long, long time ago’. 

Yesterday Health Secretary Mr Hancock used an interview with Sky to suggest the protests were ‘all based in response to events in America rather than here’.

He said he did not think Britain was a racist country but admitted there were ‘injustices’ that needed to be tackled. 

In response, Mr Lammy told the Guardian:  ‘To suggest there is only a problem on the other side of the Atlantic might make Matt Hancock feel better, but it shows real ignorance.

‘People in this country are not only showing solidarity with George Floyd and other African Americans. We must turn this moment into one of change and justice in the UK too.’

The moment a statue of 17th Century slave trader Edward Colston was thrown into Bristol Harbour yesterday

Demonstrators in London also sprayed graffiti on a statue of Winston Churchill in Parliament square

Yesterday Health Secretary Mr Hancock used an interview with Sky to suggest the protests were ‘all based in response to events in America rather than here’.

In response, Mr Lammy told the Guardian : ‘To suggest there is only a problem on the other side of the Atlantic might make Matt Hancock feel better, but it shows real ignorance

And former Labour frontbencher Dawn Butler added: ‘Until we dismantle the systemic racism that exists in society we are never going to make the progress that we need to see.

‘We have to have these uncomfortable conversations to see the change we want.’

The Metropolitan Police said 12 people were arrested and eight officers injured during Sunday’s anti-racism demonstrations in central London.

Most of the arrests were related to public order offences while one was for criminal damage following an incident at the Cenotaph. 

Sunday’s Black Lives Matter rallies attracted thousands of people right across the UK.

Pop superstar Lewis Capaldi was pictured alongside protesters at Holyrood Park in Edinburgh, while rapper Stormzy attended the London protest.

Elsewhere, the M6 was closed in the Midlands last night due to pedestrian protesters blocking the carriageway at Junction 3.

In Manchester, hundreds crowded into St Peter’s Square, kneeling in silence as a mark of respect for African-American man George Floyd, who died after a white police officer held him down by pressing a knee into his neck on May 25.

Policing minister Kit Malthouse said there would need to be a ‘post-mortem’ into how the anti-racism protests across the weekend were enforced.

When asked whether police should have looked to have stopped the Colston statute from being toppled in Bristol, he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘I know if they (police) possibly can prevent crime taking place by intervening in a public order situation they will, but obviously it is a difficult situation for frontline commanders and no doubt there will be a post-mortem, if you like, of the public order situation in Bristol, and indeed elsewhere in the country, to make sure lessons can be learned.’

But Mr Malthouse indicated that it would not have been practical to arrest all those who took part for breaking coronavirus-related restrictions.

He added: ‘We did say right at the start that this was against the regulations.

Protesters throw statue of Edward Colston into Bristol harbour during a Black Lives Matter protest rally yesterday

A police officer sits on the ground and receives medical attention after demonstrations became violent during a Black Lives Matter protest in London yesterday

As the protests descended into chaos, one protester (left and right) was seen climbing on the historic monument The Cenotaph and setting fire to the Union Jack flag

‘But obviously the reality was that people were going to come anyway.

‘Other than arresting whatever it was – 15,000 people in London and many more elsewhere – managing the protest was I think the best call given the strength of feeling that was running.’

Sir Keir told LBC radio this morning that Mr Colston’s statue should have been taken down properly and put in a museum long ago, to help educate people about the slave trade.

You can’t, in 21st century Britain have a slaver on a statue,’ he said.

‘A statue is there to honour people and you cannot have that in 21 Century Britain. That statue should have been brought down properly with consent and put in a museum.

‘This was a man who was responsible for 100,000 people being moved from Africa to the Caribbean as slaves, including women and children, who were branded on their chests with the name of the company that he ran. Of the 100,000 20,000 died en route and were chucked in the sea.

‘He should not be on a statue in Bristol or anywhere else, he should be in a museum because we need to understand this.’ 

But Home Secretary Priti Patel called toppling the memorial ‘utterly disgraceful’.

‘I think that is utterly disgraceful and that speaks to the acts of public disorder that actually have now become a distraction from the cause in which people are actually protesting about and trying to empathise and sympathise,’ she said. 

She is due to face MPs in the Commons later this afternoon. 

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