Johnson sets anti-racism panel; will defend Churchill statue ‘with every breath’
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PM calls it 'height of lunacy' to accuse Churchill of racism

Johnson sets anti-racism panel; will defend Churchill statue ‘with every breath’

UK PM says new committee will review racial equality amid calls to confront country’s imperialist past in light of protests sparked by George Floyd’s death

Protesters gather in Leeds, England, June 14, 2020, during a protest by Black Voices Matter. (Danny Lawson/PA via AP)
Protesters gather in Leeds, England, June 14, 2020, during a protest by Black Voices Matter. (Danny Lawson/PA via AP)

LONDON — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced Sunday evening that he would establish a commission to look at racial equality in the UK, after two weeks of protests spurred by the death of George Floyd in the US.

Writing in the Daily Telegraph newspaper, Johnson said the body would look at “all aspects of inequality — in employment, in health outcomes, in academic and all other walks of life.”

The prime minister also vowed to “resist with every breath in my body” pressure to remove a statue of Britain’s wartime prime minister Winston Churchill from Westminster, saying it was the “height of lunacy” to accuse Churchill of racism.

Tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets across the UK since Floyd died on May 25, demanding that Britain confront its own history of imperialism and racial inequality.

Johnson said the new body would investigate “discrimination in the education system, in health, in the criminal justice system,“ but gave few other details.

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson delivers an address on lifting the country’s lockdown amid the coronavirus pandemic, May 10, 2020. (Andrew Parsons/10 Downing Street via AP)

Opposition Labour Party lawmaker David Lammy, author of a 2017 report on Britain’s ethnic minorities and criminal justice, accused the Conservative government of stalling.

He said “it feels like yet again in the UK we want figures, data, but we don’t want action. … The time for review is over and the time for action is now.”

The statue of former British prime minister Winston Churchill is seen defaced, with the words (Churchill) “was a racist” written on its base in Parliament Square, central London after a demonstration outside the US Embassy, on June 7, 2020. (ISABEL INFANTES / AFP)

Johnson said the bronze sculpture of Churchill — which as been defaced in recent days with graffiti branding him a racist, and boarded up for its own protection — must stay put. “We need to address the present, not attempt to rewrite the past – and that means we cannot and must not get sucked into never-ending debate about which well-known historical figure is sufficiently pure or politically correct to remain in public view,” Johnson wrote.

Members of far-right Football Lads Alliance hold a British flag in front of a protective covering surrounding the statue of former British prime minister Sir Winston Churchill in Parliament Square, central London, June 13, 2020. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

He also castigated the “far-right thugs” who have taken it upon themselves to “protect” the statue. “It was utterly absurd that a load of far-Right thugs and bovver boys this weekend converged on London with a mission to protect the statue of Winston Churchill,” added Johnson. “He was a hero, and I expect I am not alone in saying that I will resist with every breath in my body any attempt to remove that statue from Parliament Square, and the sooner his protective shielding comes off the better.”

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