PM vows to tackle racism – but warns that changing attitudes ‘won’t be easy’ | UK News

Boris Johnson has promised a cross-government commission to tackle racism, but admitted it “won’t be easy” to change attitudes in Britain.

The prime minister announced the review, designed to root out inequality in education, employment, health and many other sectors, after weeks of protests calling for an end to discrimination.

Writing in The Daily Telegraph, Mr Johnson warned the review must “tackle the substance of the problem, not symbols”, as he condemned far-right “thugs” who attacked statues and fought with police this weekend.

Protests descend into violence

He also called for more black and minority ethnic people to be celebrated as British heroes and warned against trying to rewrite history.

Mr Johnson’s words follow protests, both violent and peaceful, across the country in the wake of the killing of George Floyd in America at the hands of a white police officer.

He said: “No one who cares about this country can ignore the many thousands of people who have joined the Black Lives Movement to protest peacefully, as most of them have, in the last few days. It is no use just saying that we have made huge progress in tackling racism.

“There is much more that we need to do; and we will. It is time for a cross-governmental commission to look at all aspects of inequality – in employment, in health outcomes, in academic and all other walks of life. We need to tackle the substance of the problem, not the symbols.

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“We need to address the present, not attempt to rewrite the past – and that means we cannot and must not get sucked into a never-ending debate about which well-known historical figure is sufficiently pure or politically correct to remain in public view.”

Counter-protesters gathered around the boarded-up statue of Winston Churchill in Parliament Square, London.
Counter-protesters gathered around the boarded-up statue of Winston Churchill in Parliament Square

Mr Johnson warned of attempts to erase history by tearing down statues and demanding key historical figures be condemned as racist.

He added: “It is not just that it is wrong to destroy public property by violence. I am also extremely dubious about the growing campaign to edit or Photoshop the entire cultural landscape.

“If we start purging the record and removing the images of all but those whose attitudes conform to our own, we are engaged in a great lie, a distortion of our history – like some public figure furtively trying to make themselves look better by editing their own Wikipedia entry.”

The prime minister also mounted an impassioned defence of Winston Churchill after the former leader’s statue was defaced by protesters.

Counter-protesters gathered around the boarded-up statue of Winston Churchill in Parliament Square, London.
Counter-protesters gathered around the boarded-up statue of Winston Churchill in Parliament Square

Mr Johnson, who has written a book about his predecessor, said: “He was a hero, and I expect I am not alone in saying that I will resist with every breath in my body any attempt to remove that statue from Parliament Square, and the sooner his protective shielding comes off the better.”

Asked what he will do to combat racism in the UK, Mr Johnson vowed to “champion the success” of black and minority ethnic people.

PM Boris Johnson

‘Absurd’ to attack Churchill statue

He added: “What I really want to do as prime minister is change the narrative so we stop the sense of victimisation and discrimination, we stamp out racism and we start to have a real sense of expectation of success.

“That’s where I want to get to, but it won’t be easy, we’ll have to look very carefully at the real racism and discrimination that people face.

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“What we can’t accept is people hijacking peaceful demonstrations and turning them into very ugly attacks on the police or on public monuments, we can’t accept that, and people who do do that will face the full force of the law.”

Full details of the review will be provided in the coming days, a government source said.

Commenting on the review, Labour’s shadow women and equalities secretary Marsha de Cordova said: “We are in the midst of a global health pandemic that has sharply exposed deep structural inequalities which have long since needed urgently addressing.

“That the prime minister now says he wants to ‘change the narrative… so we stop the sense of victimisation and discrimination’ is condescending and designed to let himself and his government off the hook.

“Boris Johnson’s government must acknowledge and act on the racial injustices and should now move to deliver a race equality strategy that sets out plans to reduce the structural inequalities and institutional racism faced by ethnic minorities in Britain.”

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