Boris Johnson: 'Stamp out racism' PM announces commission on race and ethnic disparities

15 June 2020, 06:58

Protests have taken place across the globe
Protests have taken place across the globe. Picture: PA
EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

Labour has branded the Prime Minister's idea to examine "all aspects" of racial inequality in Britain by creating a cross-Government commission a "back of a fag packet" plan designed to "assuage the Black Lives Matter protest"

Boris Johnson acknowledged that Britain had much more to do to deal with the issue which has come to the fore since the killing of George Floyd at the hands of police in the USA.

Mr Floyd's death has sparked protests across the globe as anti-racism campaigners take to the streets to demand equality for all.

In an article in the Daily Telegraph, the PM said his commission on race and ethnic disparities would look at "all aspects of inequality - in employment, in health outcomes, in academic and all other walks of life".

Shadow justice secretary David Lammy said there have been several reviews into racism in the UK in recent years - and the announcement of another makes it feel like "we want figures, data - but we don't want action".

Mr Lammy criticised the Government for not providing details on the scope of the commission.

"I don't know why he's announced a commission behind a paywall, in the Telegraph, buried in the middle of yet another article about Churchill," the Labour MP told the BBC.

"If he was serious, why are there no details about how it will be staffed, its remit, its terms of reference, its timetable? That's the question.

"It's because this was written on the back of a fag packet yesterday to assuage the Black Lives Matter protest. Get on with the action, legislate, move - you're in Government, do something."

Mr Lammy said it is "deeply worrying" and "frankly immature" that Britain is still "having a conversation about whether racism actually exists".

Meanwhile, David Isaac, chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said there had already been "countless reports" on the issues surrounding racial inequality and "urgent action" was needed.

He said: "We know the scale of the problems we face to tackle the entrenched racial inequality in our country. It is not new.

"There have been countless reports and the data exists exposing all the issues.

"Now is the time for urgent action. We need to see a clear and comprehensive race strategy with clear targets and timescales from Government.

"We hope this new commission will help deliver that and we stand ready to work with it."

Mr Johnson said: "What I really want to do as Prime Minister is change the narrative so we stop the sense of victimisation and discrimination.

"We stamp out racism and we start to have a real sense of expectation of success.

"That's where I want to get to but it won't be easy."

However the announcement, which included little detail, was sharply criticised by opposition parties.

For Labour, shadow equalities secretary Marsha de Cordova 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.

"That the Prime Minister now says he wants to 'change the narrative... so we stop the sense of victimisation and discrimination' is condescending and designed to let himself and his Government off the hook.

Liberal Democrat equalities spokeswoman Christine Jardine said the commission was a "welcome first step" but said the Government must go further.

"Too many people's lives are blighted by discrimination, inequality and injustice. The Government must move further and faster to redress institutional racism in the criminal justice system and many other parts of our society," she said.

The Telegraph reported that the new commission will report directly to Mr Johnson and also be overseen by Equalities Minister Kemi Badenoch.

The paper said that an independent chairman or woman would be appointed to oversee the body which would comprise of people "with a mix of ethnic, social and professional backgrounds".

The Prime Minister also used his article to defend the statue of Winston Churchill in Parliament Square, which some protesters want pulled down, and to warn against attempts to "photoshop" Britain's cultural landscape.

He lauded Churchill as "one of the country's greatest ever leaders", saying it was the "height of lunacy" to accuse him of racism.

"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," he wrote.

He went on: "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."

Mr Johnson also condemned the counter protesters who clashed with police in London on Saturday as "far-right thugs and bovver boys".

"It was right that a good number should have been arrested. They were violent.

"They were aggressive towards the police. They were patently racist.

"There is nothing that can excuse their behaviour," he said.