Boris Johnson has urged people to “stay away” from protests this weekend – saying they had been “hijacked by extremists.”
Black Lives Matter organisers cancelled a planned protest in London’s Hyde Park this weekend over fears it would be hijacked by far-right groups.
Mr Johnson, who has frequently been criticised for using racially charged language and offensive terms in articles and speeches, admitted there is “much work to do” in fighting racism.
And Mr Johnson admitted some of Winston Churchill’s opinions were “unacceptable” – but says we “cannot edit our past”.
In a Twitter thread, the Prime Minister defended his predecessor as a “hero.”
A protective box has been erected around the statue of Churchill in Parliament Square, while scaffolding and boards were put up around the Cenotaph after the monuments were targeted last weekend.
Mr Johnson wrote: “It is absurd and shameful that this national monument should today be at risk of attack by violent protestors.
“Yes, he sometimes expressed opinions that were and are unacceptable to us today, but he was a hero, and he fully deserves his memorial.
“We cannot now try to edit or censor our past. We cannot pretend to have a different history.”
There have been widespread calls for statues of historical figures who profited from slavery and espoused racist views to be removed, after a statue of slaver Edward Colston was torn down last week.
Mr Johnson said: “The statues in our cities and towns were put up by previous generations
“They had different perspectives, different understandings of right and wrong. But those statues teach us about our past, with all its faults.
“To tear them down would be to lie about our history, and impoverish the education of generations to come.”
It was reported this morning that any violence at this weekend’s protests would be swiftly punished – with courts told to prepare to jail perpetrators within 24 hours.
Mr Johnson added: “Whatever progress this country has made in fighting racism – and it has been huge – we all recognise that there is much more work to do.
“But it is clear that the protests have been sadly hijacked by extremists intent on violence. The attacks on the police and indiscriminate acts of violence which we have witnessed over the last week are intolerable and they are abhorrent.”
He added: “The only responsible course of action is to stay away from these protests.”
London Mayor Sadiq Khan pleaded with the public to stay at home amid concerns that further protests in London, particularly by far-right groups which “advocate hatred and division”, could lead to violence and disorder.
BLM LDN said a planned protest in Hyde Park on Saturday was cancelled, although a similar event on Friday will still go ahead.
“We want the protests to be a safe space for people to attend however we don’t think it’ll be possible with people like them present,” an Instagram post said.