January 25, 2021

George Floyd protests: Boris Johnson says violent demonstrators will 'face full force of the law'

June 08, 2020

Boris Johnson has admitted feelings that black and ethnic minority groups face discrimination are often "founded on a cold reality".

The prime minister posted a video message on his Twitter account on Monday night following a weekend of demonstrations across the UK sparked by the killing of George Floyd in America.

Mr Johnson admitted there was "much more to do" in eradicating prejudice in the UK.

He said that Mr Floyd's dying words of "I can't breathe" had "awakened an anger and a widespread and incontrovertible, undeniable feeling of injustice, a feeling that people from black and minority ethnic groups do face discrimination: in education, in employment, in the application of the criminal law".

"We who lead and who govern simply can't ignore those feelings because in too many cases, I am afraid, they will be founded on a cold reality," the prime minister added.

But the prime minister said he would not support those who "flout the rules on social distancing" during Black Lives Matter demonstrations, amid the continuing coronavirus pandemic.

Nor would he "indulge those who break the law, or attack the police, or desecrate public monuments", he added, as he vowed perpertrators would "face the full force of the law".

At the weekend, almost 50 police officers were injured in London following clashes with demonstrators.

A statue of Winston Churchill outside parliament was daubed with graffiti branding Britain's wartime leader a "racist", while in Bristol, the statue of a slave trader was toppled and then thrown into the city's harbour by a crowd.

Mr Johnson said: "We have a democracy in this country.

"If you want to change the urban landscape, you can stand for election, or vote for someone who will.

"And so I must say clearly that those who attack public property or the police - who injure the police officers who are trying to keep us all safe - those people will face the full force of the law; not just because of the hurt and damage they are causing, but because of the damage they are doing to the cause they claim to represent.

"They are hijacking a peaceful protest and undermining it in the eyes of many who might otherwise be sympathetic."

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Earlier on Monday, Downing Street said Mr Johnson does not think Britain is a racist country.

"The prime minister doesn't doubt that there continues to be discrimination and racism but does not agree that this is a racist country," the prime minister's official spokesman said.

"We have made very significant progress on this issue but there remains more to do and we will not be complacent in our efforts to stamp out racism and discrimination where it happens."

Downing Street also said the removal of the statue of Edward Colston in Bristol was a "criminal act".

But Mr Johnson's spokesman did not answer directly when asked if it was right that there were still statues of figures involved in the slave trade in public spaces.

"The prime minister's view is that in this country, where there is strong opinion, there is a democratic process which should be followed," he said.

"People can campaign for the removal of a statue but what happened yesterday was a criminal act and when the criminal law is broken that is unacceptable and the police will want to hold to account those responsible."

The spokesman added: "The PM absolutely understands the strength of feeling, but in this country we settle our differences democratically and if people wanted the removal of the statue there are democratic routes which can be followed."

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the Colston statue should not have been removed by the protesters, but added it was wrong for it to have remained in place for so long.

He told LBC Radio: "It shouldn't be done in that way. Completely wrong to pull a statue down like that."

The Metropolitan Police said 36 people were arrested in London on Sunday for offences including violent disorder, criminal damage and assaulting police.

They added that 35 officers reported suffering injuries, with two needing hospital treatment.

One suffered a head wound, while other sustained a shoulder injury after being hit by a thrown bottle.

On Saturday, 29 people were arrested and 14 officers injured in the capital.

Speaking in the Commons, Home Secretary Priti Patel said ministers "strongly support the right to protest peacefully".

"But that does not extend to the violent behaviour that we have witnessed across the country throughout the weekend," she told MPs.

Ms Patel also revealed that the government will look at doubling the minimum sentence for individuals who assault emergency workers.

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