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Boris Johnson has failed to show leadership in tackling racism, David Lammy has said as he branded the PM’s tweets about Winston Churchill’s statue a “deflection”.
The shadow justice minister has urged the prime minister to “have some substance” in his response to the widespread Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests across the UK.
More than 100 people were arrested on Saturday at a far-right protest in London which Johnson condemned as “racist thuggery”.
The demo 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.
In a series of eight tweets the day before, Johnson said to take statues down would “be to lie about our history”
But Lammy, who conducted a review into the justice’s system’s treatment of black and minority ethnic (BAME) groups, said rather than wading in on protests, the PM should be bringing forward new policy to combat inequality.
Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, the Tottenham MP 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.”
Chancellor Rishi Sunak, meanwhile, told Sky News that he had experienced racism when he was younger but added that it is “not something which is common” and that the UK is a “tolerant country”.
Of the widespread BLM protests, which also led to a small number of arrests the previous week, he said: ″I can see that people are upset and they are angry and they want change but change comes slowly and real change doesn’t come from wanton destruction or violence - that is wrong and it will always be wrong.”
The violent scenes in Westminster on Saturday contrasted with peaceful demonstrations that took place at Hyde Park and Marble Arch by anti-racism protesters in support of the BLM movement.
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.
Six police officers suffered minor injuries in violent clashes as several hundred demonstrators, mostly white men, attended the protest organised by far-right groups, claiming that they wanted to protect statues such as that of Churchill from vandalism.
Shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said he was “extremely disturbed” by the “completely unacceptable” scenes of violence on the streets on Saturday.
He also called for Johnson to take “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 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.”
Many of those present in London on Saturday were drinking, and there were a number of clashes with police in riot gear as crowds chanting “Tommy Robinson” and “England” while raising their arms and surging towards lines of officers.
Meanwhile, Conservative MP Tobias Ellwood, who gave first aid to PC Palmer as he lay dying after being stabbed to death in the grounds of parliament by Khalid Masood in 2017, said the image of the man urinating next to the memorial was “abhorrent”.