UK politics news: Latest updates as Boris Johnson says UK ‘not racist’ amid Black Lives Matter protests

UK politics news: Latest updates as Boris Johnson says UK ‘not racist’ amid Black Lives Matter protests | The Independent


Monday 8 June 2020 14:22

Boris Johnson does not believe that the UK is “a racist country”, his official spokesman has said. No 10 also said the tearing down of slave trader Edward Colston’s statue was “a criminal act” and “unacceptable”.

It comes as Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has said it was “completely wrong” for Black Lives Matter protesters in Bristol to pull down the statue of 17th Century slave trader – but also claimed that it should have been removed “a long time ago”.

Elsewhere, home secretary Priti Patel is making a statement on public disorder in the Commons following the protests. The Liberal Democrats have warned Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg that he “must” resign if MPs fall ill from the coronavirus ahead of an emergency debate on the end of remote voting.

Dentists call on government for support

Dentists have called on the government to support surgeries and keep treatment accessible for patients – as some practices in England reopened on Monday for the first time since lockdown rules were introduced.

In an open letter to health secretary Matt Hancock, the British Dental Association (BDA) said that “since lockdown, support from across government for our members has been far too limited. That cannot continue”.

The union has asked for dentists to be granted key worker status and access to the government supply chain on PPE, as one industry survey suggests only around one third of surgeries have opted to open today (36 per cent).

36 arrested at Sunday’s protests in London

The Metropolitan Police have released a statement saying 36 people were arrested during Sunday’s protests for offences including violent disorder, criminal damage and assaulting police.

Scotland Yard said 35 officers reported suffering injuries. Two of the officers required hospital treatment, one after suffering a head wound and the second with a shoulder injury after a bottle was thrown.

Investigations are under way into a number of incidents including criminal damage to a statue, and “other sites and buildings of national importance” – and officers are seeking to identify those responsible.

Commissioner Cressida Dick said: “In recent days a minority of protesters sought confrontation with police leading to many officers being injured, including several seriously.

“When officers sought to protect colleagues and iconic landmarks they faced further obstruction and sustained assault.”

She added: “The violent criminality we saw is disgraceful and will have been very frightening for others. It will never be acceptable to attack police officers, damage property and leave others in fear of their safety. We will be carrying out a thorough investigation so that those responsible for criminal acts are brought speedily to justice.”

‘Good level of compliance’ with quarantine, says No 10

Downing Street has said there appeared to be a “good level of compliance” with new regulations requiring people arriving in the UK to quarantine for 14 days.

The PM’s official spokesman said the government expected most people would be willing to co-operate to help stop the spread of coronavirus.

“All of the indications so far are that there has been a good level of compliance. We do expect the vast majority of people to play their part in helping to stop the spread of this disease,” the spokesman said.

The spokesman declined to comment on the threat of legal action by some airlines, but said the science behind the new regulation was clear. “If we limit the risk of new cases being brought in from abroad we can help to reduce the likelihood of a second wave of coronavirus,” he said.

The PM’s spokesman also dismissed suggestions the system of quarantine for passengers arriving in the UK could be replaced by coronavirus checks at airports.

He said people needed to self-isolate for 14 days as it could be a “significant number of days” after becoming infected before they developed symptoms.

“They could potentially have a test at the border, that test could say that they were negative for coronavirus and then a few days later they may start to develop symptoms and by that point they might have already been spreading the virus.”

UK ‘not a racist country’, says PM

Boris Johnson does not believe that the UK is a racist country, his official spokesman has said. The comment came in the midst of ongoing Black Lives Matter demonstrations across the country.

“The PM doesn’t doubt that there continues to be discrimination and racism but would not agree that this is a racist country. We have made very significant progress on this issue but there remains more to do,” the spokesman told reporters.

“The PM is absolutely committed to continuing efforts to stamp out racism and discrimination.” 

His official spokesman made clear that the prime minister regards attacks on police officers during protests as “unacceptable” and sees the destruction of the statue of slave trader Edward Colton in Bristol and vandalism of a memorial to Churchill in London as acts of criminal damage which should be investigated by police.

Police chief defends decision to not intervene over protesters pulling down statue

The chief constable of Avon and Somerset Police has defended officers who decided to not intervene when protesters pulled down the statue of slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol on Sunday.

Andy Marsh said police did not want to risk causing a “very violent confrontation” with the demonstrators and acted “in the best interest of public safety”.

“Can you imagine scenes of police in Bristol fighting with protesters who were damaging the statue of a man who is reputed to have gathered much of his fortune through the slave trade?” Mr Marsh said.

“I think there would have been very serious implications and whilst I certainly do not condone crime or damage of any sort, I fully support the actions of my officers.

“They responded with common sense, sound judgment and in the best interest of public safety.”

You can find his full statement below:

More than 7 million people feeling lonely in lockdown

More than half of young people who said their wellbeing has been affected by the government’s lockdown have experienced loneliness, analysis suggests.

The latest Opinions and Lifestyle Survey from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) suggests that more than 7 million have experienced loneliness during the pandemic.

The ONS found that 50.8 per cent of those aged 16 to 24 said they were lonely during the lockdown. By contrast, just under a quarter (24.1 per cent) of people aged 55 to 69 who reported their wellbeing as being affected by the lockdown said they had felt lonely.

The ONS said this echoes previous research exploring chronic loneliness, showing that people in younger age groups were most likely to report loneliness, while those in older age groups were less likely.

The ONS’ Dawn Snape said: “Lockdown affected everyone, but responses differed. During that first month, the equivalent of 7.4 million people said their well-being was affected through feeling lonely.”

No coronavirus deaths in Scotland for second day in a row

No new coronavirus deaths have been reported in Scotland in the last 24 hours, the second day in a row the figure has remained the same, Nicola Sturgeon said.

The virus is “in retreat but not gone”, said the first minister.

She added: “I can’t tell you how long I have waited to be able to report such a development and I know all of you will have longed to hear that.”

Speaking at the daily coronavirus briefing in Edinburgh, Sturgeon said 15,639 people have tested positive for the virus in Scotland – up by just 18 from 15,621 the day before.

No Ofcom investigation over actress saying she wanted PM ‘to die’

Ofcom has decided not to launch a formal investigation after Miriam Margolyes sparked more than 490 complaints by saying she wanted Boris Johnson “to die” from coronavirus.

The actress told Channel 4’s The Last Leg that the government’s handling of the pandemic has been a “disgrace” and a “public scandal”.

A spokeswoman for the TV watchdog said: “These provocative comments had clear potential to offend viewers. But we also considered the audience’s likely expectations of Miriam Margolyes, a comic actor known for her forthright views, and of this live, late-night satirical comedy show.

“We also took into account that Ms Margoyles immediately qualified her comments, and viewers were warned in advance about the programme’s adult humour.”

‘Have we ever had a more tone-deaf home secretary?’

Piers Morgan has branded Priti Patel “tone deaf” after the home secretary said pulling down of slave trader Edward Colston’s statue was “unacceptable” and “utterly disgraceful”.

The Good Morning Britain host was left enraged by Patel’s comments, tweeting: “Priti Patel thinks pulling down a slave trader’s statue ‘undermines’ racism protests. Have we ever had a more tone-deaf home secretary?”

The presenter’s rant continued on Monday morning, when he told GMB viewers: “For Priti Patel, the home secretary, to be outraged, outraged, this week of all weeks, she’s outraged, the most I’ve heard her outraged, about that statue being put into the water in a week when there have been global protests about the death of a black man at the hands of a racist policeman.

“That’s what outrages you? Priti Patel? Really?”

Monday’s business in the Commons

This afternoon’s proceedings in the Commons will see an urgent question from Labour’s shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth of the ‘R’ rate of coronavirus transmission – following concerns the number could be rising in parts of England.

That discussion will followed by a statement from home secretary on recent “public order” – so expect the toppling of Edward Colston’s statue to come up.

Then the row over Commons’ leader Jacob Rees-Mogg’s attempt to bar older and shielding MPs from contributing in a “virtual” parliament will resurface when the Lib Dems lead an emergency debate.

‘A crime has been committed,’ says policing minister

Policing minister Kit Malthouse said the country would have to “hold our breath” on a possible rise in coronavirus cases, following the mass gatherings over the weekend for the anti-racism protests.

Malthouse also said “a crime has been committed” by the protesters who pulled down the statue of slave trader – and suggested they should be prosecuted.

He told the BBC earlier: “Evidence should be gathered and prosecution should follow.”

‘Keir Starmer is such a neek’

Plenty of reaction to Keir Starmer’s comments on the Edward Colston statue. He said it was “completely wrong” for protesters to tear it down – but added that it should have been removed “a long time ago”.

On the Labour leader’s desire for the statue to have been removed more peacefully, Kerry-Anne Mendoza, editor of the left-wing website The Canary, said: “Oh wobble away you Centrist bobblehead. We already did that for 40yrs to no avail.”

Novara’s Ash Sarkar tweeted: “Keir Starmer is such a neek, my god … The council ignored community initiatives to take down the statue. It prevaricated on adding a new plaque. It went in the harbour instead.”

From David Clark, a former special adviser to Robin Cook, said his response showed “why Starmer is so dangerous for the Tories. His first instinct is to agree with voters before activists”.

The journalist Sunny Hundal said the Labour leader’s comments were “sensible and nuanced – so naturally Starmer will be condemned on Twitter”.

‘Statues of Cecil Rhodes and Oliver Cromwell have to go’

Our associate editor Sean O’Grady has suggested the statue of slave trader Edward Colston should be fished out of Bristol Harbour and place in a new British park devoted to “significant yet questionable figures of our morally problematic past”.

Here he explains why imperialist explorer Cecil Rhodes and the civil war general Oliver Cromwell might have to join Colston in the hall of disrepute.

‘It shouldn’t be done in that way’

More now on Keir Stamer’s comments on the tearing down of the Edward Colston statue in Bristol. The Labour leader told LBC Radio: “It shouldn’t be done in that way, completely wrong to pull a statue down like that.

“But stepping back that statue should have been brought down a long time, should have been taken down a long, long time ago. You can’t, in 21st century Britain, have a slaver on a statue. A statue is there to honour people. You can’t have that in 21st century Britain.

Starmer added: “That statue should have been brought down properly with consent and put, I would say, in a museum.

“This was a man who was responsible for 100,000 people being moved from Africa to the Caribbean as slaves, including women and children who were branded on their chests with the name of the company that he ran.”

Border Force staff angry over ‘shambolic’ quarantine process

Lucy Moreton, professional officer at the Immigration Services Union, said Border Force staff having to check quarantine papers for arrivals to the UK from Monday were “angry” at the way they were being treated.

She said that technical papers explaining to staff what to check for only arrived on Friday and were still not available to those operating on the front line of the devolved administrations.

Moreton told the BBC: “The staff are really angry that this does appear to be very shambolic and they don’t want to be blamed for that.”

She added that there was “no provision to check the address” that arrivals had given for where they would self-isolate for 14 days and that the system was built on “trust”.

Protests ‘not within the law’, says Scottish justice secretary

Scotland’s justice secretary has said he is “frustrated” that so many people turned out for Black Lives Matter protests in Glasgow and Edinburgh over the weekend, but that police could not go in “heavy-handed” to break up the demonstrations.

The SNP’s Humza Yousaf and first minister Nicola Sturgeon had urged people to find alternative ways to protest which would adhere to social distancing regulations.

Yousaf told BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme: “I’m frustrated first and foremost. I haven’t seen my parents for three months, they’ve missed their grandchild’s first birthday. Trust me, if I could see them, I would love to be able to see them, but I can’t.”

The justice secretary said that the protests were “not within the law”, but said that the police were responsible for the enforcement of the regulations.

He added: “I understand the frustration, but what I would say to people is, what else would you expect the police to do? We saw some scenes across the world where that heavy-handedness was met with more violence. That would have been entirely the wrong approach.”

14-day quarantine a ‘blunt instrument’, says Starmer

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said measures were needed at the border but quarantine was a “blunt instrument” and a coronavirus testing process for new arrivals would be better.

There had been “inconsistency and slowness” from the government over quarantine, he said.

“We have got the situation where – weeks ago -–other countries put quarantine in and we didn’t,” he told LBC Radio. “Now as everybody’s lifting it we’re putting it in.”

He added: “I actually would much prefer to see some sort of testing regime at the airport.”

Labour wants more evidence to justify quarantine

Shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds said Labour was “not against the principle of quarantine” but wanted to see more evidence about why it had been introduced now.

She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Government has said to us they believe that the evidence indicates this is the right time.

“Government has said to us they have the evidence to back up their approach, but we have not seen that evidence and we have not seen from them why they’re not using more expansive test, track and trace.

“We’re not against the principle of quarantine – as I said, for a long time we were asking why it hadn’t been introduced in the UK. But we really don’t understand why this approach is being taken now when there are alternatives available.”