UK Politics: PM condemns 'thuggery' at anti-racism protests

Johnson criticised protesters who attacked the police
Johnson said those responsible for violence will be held accountable
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Boris Johnson has said those responsible for violence at anti-racism protests over the weekend will be "held to account". Tradefair brings you the latest from UK politics...

"These demonstrations have been subverted by thuggery - and they are a betrayal of the cause they purport to serve."

- Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson has criticised those responsible for "thuggery" during anti-racism protests that took place across the UK over the weekend.

The demonstrations were largely peaceful, but there were moments of unrest in London that led to arrests being made and eight police officers sustaining injuries.

Protests have also continued in the US, where Black Lives Matter demonstrators have been taking to the streets and calling for change since the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis on 25 May.

A weekend of protests

Thousands of people attended anti-racism events at cities across the UK, including London, Bristol, Manchester, Wolverhampton, Nottingham, Glasgow and Edinburgh.

Aerial photography captured images of crowds gathering outside the US embassy in Vauxhall, south London, and marching towards Parliament Square and Downing Street.

There were some clashes between protesters and police in the capital, with bottles being thrown and eight people being arrested for public order offences and criminal damage. Officers in riot gear were deployed in Westminster and a Section 35 dispersal order was issued on Sunday evening, compelling people to leave the area.

John Apter, national chairman of the Police Federation, acknowledged there was a "lot of anger and frustration" among members of the public but warned there was a risk of the "legitimate message" of the protests being "hijacked by some who are intent on violence".

Metropolitan Police superintendent Jo Edwards said the gatherings were "predominantly peaceful" but the brief scenes of "violence and disorder" were "completely unacceptable".

In Bristol, demonstrators pulled down a statue of 17th century slave trader Edward Colston, which was then dragged through the streets and thrown into the harbour. Local police confirmed there would be an investigation into criminal damage following the incident, which home secretary Priti Patel denounced as "utterly disgraceful".

However, Bristol mayor Marvin Rees said the statue was "an affront" and he felt no "sense of loss" after seeing it torn down.

During an LBC radio phone-in on Monday morning, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the statue should have been removed "a long time ago", but it was "completely wrong" for protesters to pull it down.

The political fallout

The prime minister tweeted his response to the weekend's events on Sunday night, saying people have the right to protest "peacefully and while observing social distancing, but they have no right to attack the police."

He added: "These demonstrations have been subverted by thuggery - and they are a betrayal of the cause they purport to serve. Those responsible will be held to account."

Foreign Office minister James Cleverly criticised those who sprayed graffiti on the statue of Winston Churchill in Parliament Square. He tweeted: "There are some people who would rather have the fight than win the argument."

"These acts are stupid and counterproductive," Cleverly added.

Health minister Matt Hancock faced criticism after he suggested the protests were triggered by events in the US "rather than here".

David Lammy, the shadow justice secretary, said it "shows real ignorance" to suggest "there is only a problem on the other side of the Atlantic."

"People in this country are not only showing solidarity with George Floyd and other African Americans. We must turn this moment into one of change and justice in the UK too," Lammy added.

Starmer last week wrote to the prime minister calling on him to urge the US and Donald Trump to "respect human rights and the fundamental democratic right to peaceful protest".

Anti-racism demonstrations in the UK, America and other countries have taken place amid ongoing efforts to ease the lockdown restrictions brought about by the coronavirus pandemic.

Steps to gradually reopen the British economy fuelled optimism on the stock market last week, with the FTSE 100 gaining more than 5%, driven by a 2.6% increase on Tuesday.

London's blue chip index had a subdued opening today, initially dropping by 0.8% before regaining some ground to finish the morning trading session up 0.2%.

In Europe, Germany's DAX index and France's CAC 40 were both down by around 0.5% going into the afternoon.

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