Boris Johnson urges peaceful struggle against racism but says violent demonstrators will 'face full force of the law'

  • Video report by ITV News Political Reporter Carl Dinnen

Boris Johnson has acknowledged that many of the anti-racism protesters’ concerns are “founded on a cold reality” but has threatened those who harm police or property with “the full force of the law”.

The Prime Minister said the outrage provoked by the death of George Floyd at the hands of a police officer in Minneapolis had awakened an “incontrovertible, undeniable feeling of injustice” and called for people to “work peacefully, lawfully, to defeat racism”.

He said leaders “simply can’t ignore” concerns that black, Asian and minority ethnic (Bame) groups face discrimination in education, employment and criminal law.

But he warned in the wake of campaigners pulling down the statue of slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol and attacks on police that legal repercussions must follow.

And he said he would not support those who break social distancing rules aimed at slowing the spread of coronavirus, which he acknowledged was disproportionately harming Bame communities.

“So no, I will not support those who flout the rules on social distancing, for the obvious reason that we risk a new infection at a critical time and just as we have made huge progress,” he said in a video statement.

“And so I must say clearly that those who attack public property or the police – who injure the police officers who are trying to keep us all safe – those people will face the full force of the law; not just because of the hurt and damage they are causing, but because of the damage they are doing to the cause they claim to represent.

“They are hijacking a peaceful protest and undermining it in the eyes of many who might otherwise be sympathetic.”

Police arrested a total of 135 people involved in around 200 Black Lives Matter protests which took place in the UK over the weekend.

Protests took place across the country, including in Bristol where the statue of slave trader Colston was pulled down and thrown into the river.

Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees, the UK's first directly elected black mayor, said the statue in the middle of Bristol was a "personal affront" to him as he was growing up in the city, but said he "cannot condone the damage".

He told ITV News he comes from a family of Jamaicans who were "at some point enslaved and I can't say that that statue is anything but offensive to me".

"I'm not condoning, but you do need to understand, and there's a subtle but significant difference between understanding and condoning and that's something that national government would do well to take on board."

Protesters pulled down a statue of slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol Credit: Ben Birchall/PA

As mass protests against the latest killing of a black man at the hands of US police widened to highlight racial inequality more generally, the PM said he understands and hears the anger.

“In this country and around the world his dying words – I can’t breathe – have awakened an anger and a widespread and incontrovertible, undeniable feeling of injustice, a feeling that people from black and minority ethnic groups do face discrimination: in education, in employment, in the application of the criminal law,” he said.

“And we who lead and who govern simply can’t ignore those feelings because in too many cases, I am afraid, they will be founded on a cold reality.”