U.K. Home Secretary Priti Patel has condemned the boarding up of key public statues in London ahead of anti-racism protests on Saturday and urged demonstrators to stay at home.
Patel used an interview with the Daily Mail to accuse the city’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, of mishandling the few subversive protesters and called for the statue of former Prime Minister Winston Churchill to be uncovered. On Twitter Patel joined Prime Minister Boris Johnson in warning protesters they risked spreading the coronavirus.
Some of the U.K.’s Black Lives Matter groups have said they will no longer attend the protests after reports that right-wing groups planned to descend on the capital to protect statues they see as possible targets for demonstrators. Authorities ordered historic statues of figures ranging from wartime leader Churchill to Nelson Mandela to be boarded up to protect against vandalism.
Concern about statues of historic figures who may have racist pasts was heightened after protesters in the city of Bristol last weekend toppled the statue of 17th-century slave trader Edward Colston and dumped it into the harbor there.
London Mayor Khan has given his backing to the Black Lives Matter movement but also urged protesters to keep off the streets.
Policing of Saturday’s protests is likely to be a contentious issue with a breakdown in relations between enforcement officers and the home secretary, the Times newspaper reported. Patel has come under criticism from police chiefs accused of “disgraceful” interference after she demanded a clamp down on the Black Lives Matter protests, the newspaper reported.
Police reportedly took offense after Patel called out officers in Bristol for not intervening when protesters pulled down the statue on June 8. She has made clear she expects the perpetrators to face criminal charges, the paper said.