Video report by ITV News Political Correspondent Carl Dinnen
Police have arrested at total of 135 people involved in around 200 Black Lives Matter protests which took place in the UK over the weekend, the home secretary has said.
Priti Patel, making a statement in the House of Commons, said more than 137,500 people attended the mostly "peaceful" protests, but a "lawless minority of protesters" turned to violence.
“The thugs and criminals responsible are already being brought to justice," she told MPs, after earlier tweeting that "justice will follow".
At least 35 police officers were injured during protests in the capital, she said.
Downing Street earlier condemned the toppling of slave trader Edward Colston's statue in Bristol as a "criminal act", after the city's mayor said he felt no "sense of loss" over the monument's disposal.
After being toppled, the statue was rolled to the harbour and pushed in to the River Avon.
Boris Johnson's spokesperson said the prime minister's view is that there is "democratic process which should be followed" when there is "strong opinion" about an issue.
Avon and Somerset Police said they had launched an investigation and were seeking to identify those involved with the removal of the statue.
Home Secretary Patel has been having daily calls with police leaders, including talks over the weekend and on Monday morning with the Metropolitan Police and Avon and Somerset Police, Downing Street said.
Both have the government's "full support in tackling any violence, vandalism and disorderly behaviour".
She told MPs any large gatherings of people are “currently unlawful” before adding: “We cannot afford to forget we’re still in the grip of an unprecedented national health emergency that has tragically claimed more than 40,000 lives.
“So the severe public health risk forces me to continue to urge the public not to attend future protests," she said.
The prime minister "absolutely understands the strength of feeling", his spokesperson said, but added: "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."
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."
Asked whether he wanted to see those involved with removing the statue charged, Mr Rees added: “That is up to the criminal justice system.
“I don’t really intervene in criminal matters like that – that’s not for me to go and be a cheerleader to the police in any criminal investigations.”
Downing Street said people can campaign for statues to be removed, "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",
Despite acknowledging that "discrimination and racism" does exist in Britain, the prime minister "does not agree that this is a racist country”, the spokesperson added.
ITV News Political Reporter Shehab Khan on the protest aftermath:
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the statue should have been taken down “a long, long time ago”.
Speaking on LBC, Sir Keir said it was “completely wrong” for the statue to be pulled down in that way.
But he added: “You can’t, in 21st century Britain, have a slaver on a statue – a statue is there to honour people."
Mr Rees warned that it would take more than the removal of a controversial statue to tackle racism that was “stitched into the system”.
He praised Avon and Somerset Police’s handling of the protest.
“I think our police were incredible actually, and this is intelligent, nuanced policing, not Trumpian militarisation domination,” Mr Rees told BBC Breakfast.
“What we had was a police force with a huge crowd in front of it, with lots of energy, lots of passion, lots of frustration, and we didn’t have the violent confrontations we had in other cities.”
Policing minister Kit Malthouse flatly described the toppling of the statue as "a crime" and warned prosecutions may follow.
"It was a crime to pull that statue down because they committed criminal damage and that’s not how we settle our differences in this country," he told ITV News.
"That statue was controversial and offensive to many and it’s been a matter of debate in that city for many decades and that debate should have been settled through democratic means, with the mayor, the council taking a decision on what to do.
"The way to settle it was not to tear it down and throw it into the dock, that was a crime I’m afraid and the police will be investigating it and prosecutions may well follow."
He added that the "law of the land applies to me, to you and to everybody that was on that demonstration".
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the protests "risk increasing the spread" of coronavirus in the UK and "it is a mistake" for people to "participate in demonstrations that help to spread this vile disease".
Home Secretary Priti Patel, in the Commons, said: "We strongly support the right to protest peacefully but that does not extend to the violent behaviour we have witnessed."
Earlier, she called the toppling of the memorial “utterly disgraceful”.
“I think that is utterly disgraceful and that speaks to the acts of public disorder that actually have now become a distraction from the cause in which people are actually protesting about and trying to empathise and sympathise,” she said.
Labour's Sir Keir said violence aimed at police by some protesters was “completely unacceptable”.
Meanwhile Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the anti-racism demonstrations had been "subverted by thuggery", following clashes between pockets of protesters and police.
Mr Johnson tweeted that "people have a right to protest" but turning to violence was "a betrayal of the cause they purport to serve."
Asked what she made of those comments, Shadow Chancellor Anneliese Dodds told ITV News: "I won’t condone any violence and vandalism.
"Protests must be done safely and peacefully but I think it’s really important that leaders right now recognise that they’ve got a responsibility to try and heal divisions, to try and unite communities.
"We’ve seen those protests, which have been overwhelmingly peaceful, occur because people are hurting. They are hurting deeply and we haven’t seen that reflected from the UK’s leader.
"He hasn’t commented on the appalling death of George Floyd we haven’t seen any action since that public health report that showed black people are at least twice as likely to die from this disease."
The Black Lives Matter rallies attracted thousands of people right across the UK and were largely peaceful.
But protests in London resulted in 36 people being arrested and eight officers injured during Sunday’s anti-racism demonstrations, Metropolitan Police said, with offences including violent disorder, criminal damage and assaulting police.
Most of the arrests were related to public order offences while one was for criminal damage following an incident at the Cenotaph.
It comes after Scotland Yard said 29 people were arrested and 14 officers were injured during clashes between police and protesters the day before.