Bristol Mayor criticises minister for inflaming debate over Colston statue

Edward Colston statue is thrown into Bristol harbour during a protest.
The statue was pulled down during a Black Lives Matter protest in June 2020

Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees has criticised a government minister for creating an "adversarial culture" and inflaming the debate around the toppling of the Colston statue in Bristol.

Mr Rees spoke out after Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick wrote an article in the Sunday Telegraph about a forthcoming new law to protect historic monuments from being removed “on a whim or at the behest of a baying mob”.

Mr Rees accused him of using unwelcome “social media language” and failing to accurately depict the situation in Bristol.

In the opinion piece, Mr Jenrick hit out at “flash mobs”, “town hall militants” and “woke worthies” who he said were overriding due process.

The Conservative politician said new legislation would require planning permission for any changes, which a minister could also veto.

Mr Jenrick’s article was widely seen as a clear reference to the toppling of a statue to slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol in June last year, although he did not directly mention it.

Mayor Marvin Rees criticised Robert Jenrick's use of "social media language" Credit: ITV News West Country

When asked to comment during a fortnightly press conference, the city’s Labour mayor said: “It is a responsibility of political leaders not to use language that sets up that kind of adversarial culture.

“We get enough of that anyway – we don’t need that kind of social media language.

“It is a poor analysis of what is actually going on.

“Colston Statue was pulled down in circumstances I could not endorse, but the way we have gone about discussing our history now is the way you would want.

“We pulled together the history commission, it will be engaging with the city.

“We have a cultural board and will go on a very patient and inclusive conversation with Bristol about who we are.”

Mr Rees said the minister’s comments were “nowhere near the approach we have taken”.

Robert Jenrick Credit: PA

In the article, Mr Jenrick wrote: “We live in a country that believes in the rule of law, but when it comes to protecting our heritage, due process has been overridden. That can’t be right.

“Local people ought to have the chance to be consulted on whether a monument should stand or not.

“What has stood for generations should be considered thoughtfully, not removed on a whim or at the behest of a baying mob.”

Four people have been charged with criminal damage following the toppling of the statue and will appear in court later this month.

Credit: Adam Postans, The Local Democracy Reporting Service

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