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Boris Johnson does not believe that the UK is a racist county, Downing Street has said.
The PM’s official spokesman set out his views in the wake of UK Black Lives Matter protests that saw activists topple a memorial to a slave trader in Bristol and spray paint the word ‘racist’ on a statue of Winston Churchill.
The spokesman refused repeatedly to say whether Johnson personally believed that the statue of Edward Colston was abhorrent, but stressed that he believed “democratic processes” should be followed in such cases.
Asked directly if the PM believed the UK was a racist country, the No.10 spokesman said: “No. The PM doesn’t doubt that there continues to be discrimination and racism but does not agree that this is a racist country.
“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.”
His remarks echo those of equalities minister Kemi Badenoch last week, who said that while tackling discrimination was vital “this is one of the best countries in the world to be a black person.”
Scotland Yard confirmed on Monday that a total of 35 police officers were injured in violent disorder at the end of Black Lives Matter protests in central London over the weekend. Some 36 people were arrested.
The demonstrations, sparked by the killing of George Floyd in the United States, included protests against institutional racism in the UK’s criminal justice and immigration policy.
Many protestors also pointed to the disproportionate deaths from Covid-19 among the black and minority ethnic community. Most of the protests were peaceful.
The statue of Colston, who made his fortune from the slave trade in the 1600s, was toppled and rolled into the River Avon on Sunday.
Home office minister Kit Malthouse said on Radio 4: “The law was broken yesterday and it’s possible to abhor both that fact and the memorialisation of Thomas Colston.”
When asked if the PM did indeed abhor the memorialisation, his spokesman said that was a “separate” issue.
“I can only talk to what happened yesterday which I think we can agree was an act of criminal damage.”
Asked again, he said: “The PM’s view is that in this country, where there is strong opinion, there is a democratic process which should be followed.
“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 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.”
Chancellor Rishi Sunak issued a statement that “we have inherited a country far more inclusive and farer than at any point in its history”.
He said that “as a British Asian of course I know that racism exists in this country” but stressed that “a better society doesn’t happen overnight”.
Home Secretary Priti Patel has been having daily calls with police leaders, including talks over the weekend and this morning with the Metropolitan Police and Avon and Somerset Police, Downing Street added. Johnson received an update from Met chief Cressida Dick on Sunday night.
“They have our full support in tackling any violence, vandalism and disorderly behaviour,” the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said.
“It is completely unacceptable they were subjected to attacks over the weekend.”
Police commanders had to take into account a number of factors – including the safety of their officers – before deciding how to respond to protests, the spokesman said.