London: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday, June 15 announced a new cross-government commission to tackle racism and all other forms of inequality in the UK, in response to the worldwide anti-racism Black Lives Matter protests.
Johnson said that it is not possible to ignore the many thousands who joined the protests in Britain over the past few weeks, in the wake of the killing of 46-year-old African-American George Floyd in Minneapolis in police custody.
“No one who cares about this country can ignore the many thousands of people who have joined the Black Lives Matter movement to protest peacefully, as most of them have, in the last few days,” the UK PM writes in ‘The Daily Telegraph’.
“It is no use just saying that we have made huge progress in tackling racism. There is much more that we need to do, and we will. It is time for a cross-governmental commission to look at all aspects of inequality in employment, in health outcomes, in academic and all other walks of life,” he said.
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Reiterating his previous statements against the targeting of monuments and statues by protesters, including that of former UK Prime Minister Winston Churchill in Parliament Square, Johnson stressed that the focus should be on tackling the “substance” of the problem, not the symbols.
“We need to address the present, not attempt to rewrite the past – and that means we cannot and must not get sucked into a never-ending debate about which well-known historical figure is sufficiently pure or politically correct to remain in public view,” he said.
Since a statue of a former slave trader was torn down in Bristol during protests earlier this month, there has been a growing drive across the UK to review the landmarks of different cities, including a commission set up by London Mayor Sadiq Khan to relook at the UK capital’s statues.
Johnson expressed his opposition to such moves: “It is not just that it is wrong to destroy public property by violence. I am also extremely dubious about the growing campaign to edit or Photoshop the entire cultural landscape.
“If we start purging the record and removing the images of all but those whose attitudes conform to our own, we are engaged in a great lie, a distortion of our history – like some public figure furtively trying to make themselves look better by editing their own Wikipedia entry.”
The UK Prime Minister is yet to lay out further details of the new commission, its make-up, remit and timetable but it will be overseen by UK Equalities Minister Kemi Badenoch and include independent members. There are expected to be public evidence sessions and legislation could follow.
The Opposition Labour Party criticised the move to demand action rather than another review.
“You can understand why it feels like, yet again in the UK, we want figures, data, but we don’t want action,” said Labour’s shadow justice secretary David Lammy.
“Black people aren’t playing victim as Boris indicates, they’re protesting precisely because the time for review is over and the time for action is now,” he said.
“We are in the midst of a global health pandemic that has sharply exposed deep structural inequalities which have long since needed urgently addressing,” added Labour’s shadow equalities secretary Marsha de Cordova.
Liberal Democrat equalities spokesperson Christine Jardine said the commission was a “welcome first step” and showed the Black Lives Matter protests were working.
“Its findings must not become simply another report on a shelf in Whitehall the government must implement them without delay,” she said.