Citing the cabinet-level appointments of Rishi Sunak and Priti Patel, Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Tuesday highlighted the strides made by Britain on diversity in recent decades, but told Black Lives Matter (BLM) protestors not to break the law.
Johnson delivered a message on the issue after the statue of 17th century slave trader Edward Colston was pulled down in Bristol on Sunday, amidst growing calls to remove statues of other slave traders and of East India Company colonialist Robert Clive.
Four offices in the UK government are considered ‘Great Offices of State’: prime minister, chancellor, home secretary and foreign secretary. Johnson appointed Sunak as the chancellor and Patel as the home secretary.
He said: “Yes, I am proud to lead the most ethnically diverse government in the history of this country, with two of the four great offices of state held by a man and a woman of Indian origin…This country has made huge strides”.
“But we must also frankly acknowledge that there is so much more to do…And so I say yes, you are right, we are all right, to say Black Lives Matter; and to all those who have chosen to protest peacefully and who have insisted on social distancing – I say, yes of course I hear you, and I understand”.
“But I must also say that we are in a time of national trial, when for months this whole country has come together to fight a deadly plague…So no, I will not support those who flout the rules on social distancing…and no, I will not support or indulge those who break the law, or attack the police, or desecrate public monuments”. he said.
Referring to demands to remove statues of controversial figures installed across the UK over centuries and decades, Johnson said if those who want to change the urban landscape of the country, they can stand for election, or vote for someone who will.
Pulling down Colston’s statue has revived the demand to remove the statue of imperialist Cecil Rhodes in Oxford. Thousands have signed a petition to remove Clive’s statue in Shropshire, while others want the stature of 19th century slave trader Thomas Picton in Wales to be pulled down.