Friday 12 June 2020 2:06 pm

Boris Johnson urges public to avoid 'hijacked' London protests and defends Churchill statue

Boris Johnson has urged the public to stay away from Black Lives Matter protests planned in London this weekend amid fears of violence after being “hijacked by extremists”.

Black Lives Matter organisers have cancelled London protests that were set to start at 1pm in Hyde Park tomorrow after right-wing groups planned to join. Today’s protest was due to go ahead from 1pm. 

Read more: Churchill statue and the Cenotaph: London monuments boarded up ahead of protests

The Prime Minister said: “It is clear that the protests have been sadly hijacked by extremists intent on violence. The only responsible course of action is to stay away from these protests.”

London mayor Sadiq Khan added: “To the extreme far-right groups hijacking this crucial cause: Londoners have no time for your hatred.”

Far-right movement the Democratic Football Lads Alliance (DFLA) called on members around the UK to head to the capital to “protect” London’s statues from midday tomorrow. It comes after protesters toppled a Bristol slave trader statue over the weekend.

Members of the far-right group are set to attend a “patriotic unity” event at Sir Winston Churchill’s statue in Parliament Square.

Statues of Churchill, Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi, as well as the Cenotaph, have all been boarded up in anticipation of possible vandalism and violence during protests this weekend. 

An official statement posted by the DFLA on Youtube said: “For the last few weeks we’ve seen stories of the war memorials up and down the country getting desecrated and we’re angry about it.” 

Former English Defence League (EDL) leader Tommy Robinson and right-wing political group Britain First have expressed their support for the DFLA event, dubbed “Defend Our Memorials”. Protests led by the DFLA have previously attracted more than 10,000 people. 

The Prime Minister today said: “We cannot now try to edit or censor our past. We cannot pretend to have a different history. The statues in our cities and towns were put up by previous generations.”

A statue of former South African president Nelson Mandela is seen holding a Black Lives Matter placard in Parliament Square, central London. It has been boarded up to protect it from demonstrations
A statue of former South African president Nelson Mandela is seen holding a Black Lives Matter placard in Parliament Square, central London. It has been boarded up to protect it from demonstrations (AFP via Getty Images)

He also said of the protests planned for London, and fears of vandalism on the Churchill statue, the Cenotaph and a Nelson Mandela statue in Parliament Square:

What makes me sad about what’s happening today, is that you’ve got a situation in which the statue of Winston Churchill, who is a national hero, has had to be boarded up for fear of violent attack. That, to me, is both absurd and wrong. You should not have a situation in which people who are protesting on one basis are violently attacking the police or public property.

“I’m afraid what’s happened with these demonstrations, is that… a growing minority unfortunately have hijacked them, and they are using them as a pretext to attack the police to cause violence, and to cause damage to public property,” Johnson added.

Read more: Why we need to leave the statues alone

“My message to everybody is that for all sorts of reasons, they should not go to these demonstrations. And whatever our feelings about the cause, we should not support a demonstration that is in all probability, looking at what’s happened before, going to end in deliberate and calculated violence.”

While protests in the UK have been mostly peaceful, the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) said more than 130 people have been arrested at around 200 protests that have taken place in the UK so far. 

Johnson denounced pockets of violence that have erupted during protests inside and outside London. He said: “Attacks on the police and indiscriminate acts of violence which we have witnessed over the last week are intolerable and they are abhorrent.”

Police have amped up security measures ahead of the weekend, and will be “fully kitted up” in riot gear, said Ken Marsh, chairman of the Metropolitan Police.

New powers introduced mean members of the public caught vandalising, causing criminal damage or assaulting police officers will be rapidly processed through magistrates’ courts with extended opening hours, according to The Times.

Workers erect a protective barrier around the Cenotaph in anticipation of London protests, with anti-racist protesters and far-right protesters set to clash
Workers erect a protective barrier around the Cenotaph in anticipation of London protests, with anti-racist protesters and far-right protesters set to clash (Getty Images)

“There’s an awful lot of preparation going on… We have got the perfect storm ahead of us this weekend — we have got planned protests and now Tommy Robinson and his agitators,” Marsh added.

Read more: Sadiq Khan accused of ‘not looking after coppers’ in London protests

Justice secretary Robert Buckland and home secretary Priti Patel are said to have drawn up plans for this weekend’s protests based on the response to the 2011 London riots.

It comes after more than a week of anti-racist protests in the UK, as the country faces a moment of cultural reckoning in response to the Black Lives Matter movement.

Earlier this week, Khan announced a review of statues in London after memorials of colonialists and slave traders were toppled during protests across the country. 

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