A 15,000-strong crowd march for Black Lives Matter in Brighton as protestors and counter-demonstrators clash in angry scenes in town squares across UK
- Thousand of protesters have gathered in Brighton for a Black Lives Matter protest along the beach front
- Anti-protesters in Bristol clutched signs denying they were far-right supporters with placards and signs
- Hundreds of protesters rallied in Liverpool, Newcastle, Brighton, Bath, Cardiff, Newport and Glasgow
- In Bristol a large group of bikers parked their motorcycles around a memorial in an effort to protect it
Angry scenes have been captured in town squares across the UK as Black Lives Matter protesters clashed with counter-demonstrators today.
More than 1,000 protesters gathered in Brighton to stand in solidarity with BLM demonstrations worldwide.
While protesters in Bristol denied they were far-right supporters while gathering at the Cenotaph with ‘All Lives Matter’ banners.
Hundreds of BLM and pro-statue anti-protesters are also rallying in cities across the country such as Liverpool, Newcastle, Brighton and Glasgow.
Demonstrators and anti-protesters seen in videos and photographs from the rallies defy strict social distancing measures as they crowd together.
One counter-protest banner read: ‘Not far right just ordinary people of all races from Bristol, Bath, Cardiff, Newport etc. United to defend the Cenotaph to defend the memory of people who died so that we are able to have the freedom to protest.’
Among those gathered was a large contingent of bikers who parked their motorbikes next to the war memorial.
Hundreds also flocked to George Square in Glasgow to ‘protect’ a war memorial.
In an event organised by a group called the Loyalist Defence League (LDL), people congregated to stop vandalism to the Glasgow Cenotaph, erected to commemorate the lives of those who died in the First World War.
Protesters march along the seafront in support of the Black Lives Matter movement at a protest action in Brighton today
BRIGHTON: Protesters from Black Lives Matter take part in a silent vigil on Madeira Drive, Brighton earlier this afternoon
BOLTON: A tense stand off between opposing sets of demonstrators at Black Lives Matter march in Bolton earlier today
NEWCASTLE: Counter-protesters stand in front of police officers during a Black Lives Matter protest in Newcastle
LIVERPOOL: Demonstrators hold signs as they attend a Black Lives Matter protest following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody, in Liverpool
GLASGOW: Activists gather at the Cenotaph in George Square to protect it from any vandalism after statues were graffitied during previous demonstrations
BRISTOL: People taking part in a Black Lives Matter protest and counter pro-statue protest at the Bristol Cenotaph in Bristol
STAFFORDSHIRE: A group of men stand beside the boarded up statue of Sir Robert Peel before people take part in a Black Lives Matter protest in the grounds of Tamworth Castle
Forming a mile-long line along the Brighton seafront, activists wearing black clothes and masks and holding signs held a silent protest on Saturday afternoon.
Rallies were also planned in other cities across the UK, including Newcastle, Liverpool, Southport, Tamworth, Shrewsbury, Barry, Reading, Slough, Croydon, Chelmsford, Kings Lynn and Hemel Hempstead.
Hundreds of people attended the Black Lives Matter protest in Gloucester Park where several speakers took to the bandstand to address the crowds, along with choirs and singers who performed songs such as Something Inside So Strong.
Aqualina Richards, 24, from Gloucester, said: ‘I was born in England and have lived in Gloucestershire my whole life, and I’ve experienced racism.
Some 15,000 gathered on the storefront for a Black Lives Matter protest today, as few took to the sand to sunbathe
Protesters blocked traffic in the leafy town of Farnham, Surrey as they held cardboard signs calling for ‘justice for George Floyd’
People took part in a Black Lives Matter protest march from Central Park to Admirals Park in Chelmsford earlier today
Counter-protesters stand in front of police officers during a Black Lives Matter protest following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody, in Newcastle, Britain today
Protesters from Black Lives Matter during a march in Brighton, Demonstrators hold signs calling for people to ‘stand up to racism’ and ‘it’s not ok to be silent’
Protesters from Black Lives Matter gather on the sea front before a march in Brighton held today. Thousands of people descended on the seaside town to join the campaign
Protesters from Black Lives Matter make their way past the Royal Pavillion during a march in Brighton. One holds a ‘rest in power’ sign
‘It is still definitely going on to this day. I work in Gloucester and I can feel it. It is one of those things where it just feels unjust, and I just felt that I had to come and support in whatever way I can.
‘I feel like a lot of people don’t want to accept the fact that racism is still a problem today, but I believe it really is and we need to start talking about it to fix anything.
‘The UK definitely does have an issue with racism. If you just look into it, it is there, it is happening, and it is real.’
It comes as police fought to keep control of London this afternoon after a far-right rally spiralled into hooliganism and ran riot through Westminster.
Mounted officers and riot squads armed with shields have desperately tried to separate today’s Black Lives Matter demonstration from the fierce counter-protest.
Police fight to maintain control in Trafalgar Square amid both Black Lives Matter and pro-statue protests in London today
Priti Patel has condemned the ‘unacceptable thuggery’ of hooligans who hijacked a pro-statue rally and clashed with police outside London’s Cenotaph this afternoon
Bottles are thrown at mounted police as members of far right groups gathered to guard statues in Parliament Square
Some of the demonstration peeled off down Whitehall and marched right up to the police barrier, where louts were seen goading constables and lobbing beer cans
Police armed with shields and riot gear reinforce the blockade on Whitehall as louts rush up the police line
Louts were seen goading constables, while a few cans were lobbed over the barriers as the crowd sang out football chants
Both groups have marched on Trafalgar Square, where smoke bombs were detonated, and have been within sight of each other.
Crowds of pro-statue campaigners had earlier surrounded the monument of Winston Churchill, which has been boarded up by Sadiq Khan for fear of it becoming a ‘flashpoint’ of far-right violence.
They later peeled off to the Cenotaph where they rushed up to the police blockage, where they goaded constables and pelted them with bottles and cans.
The pro-statue rally included veterans dressed in military uniform as well as far-right thugs such as Britain First leader Paul Golding.
Priti Patel has condemned the ‘unacceptable thuggery’ and said the perpetrators would face the ‘full force of the law’.
Mounted police, who also came under fire from projectiles, have been trying to push demonstrators back from the other end of Parliament Square, near the boarded-up statues of Nelson Mandela and Gandhi, where a device emitted dark smoke into the crowd.
Hundreds of far-right thugs and hooligans have rushed up to the police blockade outside the Cenotaph – as tensions threaten to boil over in the heart of London ahead of today’s Black Lives Matter protest
Protesters gather in support of the Black Lives Matter movement for a protest action in Hyde Park
Activists from far-right linked groups chant as they face police officers in Trafalgar Square on June 13, 2020 in London, United Kingdom. Following a social media post by the far-right activist known as Tommy Robinson, members of far-right linked groups have gathered around statues in London
The Home Secretary tweeted a video of the affray and wrote: ‘Throughly (sic) unacceptable thuggery. Any perpetrators of violence or vandalism should expect to face the full force of the law.
‘Violence towards our police officers will not be tolerated. Coronavirus remains a threat to us all. Go home to stop the spread of this virus & save lives.’
BLM coordinators had formally scrapped today’s demonstration for fear of clashes, but many have still taken to the streets.
This morning, a senior BLM organsier said Churchill’s statue should be removed from Parliament Square.
Imarn Ayton, 29, a figurehead of the movement who has given speeches alongside Star Wars actor John Boyega, said a monument to anyone who has made racist comments – including the wartime PM – is offensive and belongs in a museum.
But she urged campaigners to stay off the streets of London to prevent rallies exploding into a ‘race war’ against the far-right, who are among those trooping to the capital and other cities across the UK to defend targeted sculptures.
The Mayor of London today defended his decision to board up monuments in Westminster by pointing to possible violence from far-right groups.
He told Radio 4’s Today programme this morning: ‘We have intelligence that extreme far-right groups are coming to London, they say to protect the statues but we think these statues could become a flash point for violence.
‘And we are worried in far-right groups getting involved in violence, vandalism and disorder with those protesting as part of the BLM movement.
‘And that’s one of the reasons why I’m asking people to stay away from central London.’
Protesters charge past Parliament in Westminster as the police try to disperse the crowds after clashes
Far-right protesters walk as British police officers in riot gear escort them away in central London, as groups gather to counter-protest against a Black Lives Matter demonstration this afternoon
Pro-statue campaigners have rallied peacefully outside the statue of Winston Churchill in Parliament Square, which has been boarded up by Sadiq Khan for fear of it becoming a ‘flashpoint for violence’
Far-right protesters walk as British police officers in riot gear escort them away in central London, as groups gather to counter-protest against a Black Lives Matter demonstration this afternoon in Manchester, England
Activists argue with a police officer on Parliament Street this afternoon in London, United Kingdom
Protesters stand by the Cenotaph ahead of a possible Black lives matter demonstration in London
The counter-protest heads from the Churchill memorial in Parliament Square down Whitehall to the Cenotaph
Riot squads armed with batons and shields are holding the line in the middle of Whitehall to separate anti-racism activists from a frenzied counter-protest
Activists chant as they face police officers on Whitehall as pro-statue campaigners gather around London’s monument
Crowds of people have surrounded Winston Churchill’s statue in Parliament Square after pro-statue activists roused a call to arms to defend Westminster’s monuments
A former serviceman stands beside Churchill’s statue today as hundreds of people gather in Westminster for a counter-protest ahead of Black Lives Matter rally
People taking part in a Black Lives Matter protest in Hyde Park, London, today
Police form a barrier in front of activists surrounding the Cenotaph, before moving barriers in place as more pro-statue people headed down Whitehall
Some of the pro-statue demonstration peeled off down Whitehall and marched right up to the police barrier, which some tried to clamber over
Paul Golding, the leader of far-right group Britain first, arrived at the Cenotaph this morning wearing a top reading: White lives matter and #BritainFirst
Imarn Ayton, 29, a figurehead of the movement who has given speeches alongside Star Wars actor John Boyega, said a monument to ‘any man’ who has made racist comments – including the wartime PM – is offensive and belongs in a museum
A counter-protester shouts into a megaphone during a Black Lives Matter protest following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody, in Newcastle
Scotland Yard is desperate to keep control of London after last weekend’s largely peaceful protest was hijacked by pockets of violence, which targeted constables.
Police chiefs have imposed a 5pm curfew on the demonstration and warned that officers are ready to make arrests.
Asked if she believes Winston Churchill statue should be removed, Ms Ayton told BBC Radio 4: ‘Yes I do. I believe these statues should be moved to a museum I think it’s a win win for everyone. It no longer offends the black nation, but we get to keep our history and keep those that would like to see that.
Asked why Churchill’s statue was offensive, she said: ‘Any statue of people who has spoken negatively towards black people is going to be offensive. Any man.’
Home Secretary Priti Patel says Winston Churchill should be ‘liberated’
London’s mayor was accused of caving in to mob rule last night by covering up Winston Churchill’s statue.
Sadiq Khan is shielding key public monuments – including the Cenotaph – ahead of anti-racism protests on Saturday. But Priti Patel called on the mayor to uncover the bronze sculpture immediately.
‘We should free Churchill, a hero of our nation, who fought against fascism and racism in this country and Europe,’ said the Home Secretary.
‘He has given us the freedom to live our lives the way we do today.’ Churchill’s grandson, Nicholas Soames, said covering up his statue in Parliament Square was a national humiliation. And Boris Johnson said it was ‘absurd and shameful’ that the monument required protection.
Mr Khan defended his decision, insisting that ‘prevention is better than the cure’. His allies said Mr Johnson oversaw the boarding-up of Parliament Square statues three times as mayor.
The Churchill monument, which was erected in 1973, has been a target of protesters and was spray-painted with the word ‘racist’ last weekend.
Police said they could face a ‘perfect storm’ today after a network of football hooligans and extremists said they would rally to ‘defend’ national monuments.
Yesterday, the Prime Minister waded into the debate on statues to slam the boarding up of his political hero, Churchill’s sculpture.
He said it was ‘absurd and shameful’ that a statue of Sir Winston Churchill was ‘at risk of attack’ by protesters and ‘the only responsible course of action is to stay away from these protests’.
Home Secretary Priti Patel weighed in behind her boss and demanded Churchill be ‘set free’.
She told the Daily Mail: ‘We should free Churchill, a hero of our nation, who fought against fascism and racism in this country and Europe.’
Churchill’s grandson Nicholas Soames, the former Tory MP, said that covering the wartime PM’s statue was a national humiliation.
This morning, Mr Khan responded to criticism with a dig at Boris Johnson and said: ‘I’d remind Londoners and all those around the country this isn’t the first statues in Parliament Square and London have been boarded up.
‘Indeed Parliament Square was fenced off for a number of weeks when Boris Johnson was Mayor.’
The Mayor also accused Ms Patel of seeking to score ‘political points’.
He said: ‘She needs to see the intelligence that we have seen that the far right are intending to come to central London.
‘One of their justifications for doing so is to protect these statues but also they are intending to remove statues of people like Nelson Mandela, so I think we have done the wise, precautionary thing.
‘Rather than seeking to make political points out of this, what I hope is that central government would work with regional government and the police to make sure there isn’t violence, vandalism or disorder or inadvertently the spreading of the virus.’
Hooligan groups raised a call to arms this morning for supporters to head to Whitehall at the same time George Floyd demonstrators are marching from Hyde Park.
The Democratic Football Lads Alliance, which is rallying ‘football lads, patriots, veterans and people who just love their country’, insists it is not rousing a counter-protest but is instead on a ‘protection mission’.
Paul Golding, the leader of far-right group Britain First, was pictured at the Cenotaph this morning wearing a top emblazoned with the words ‘white lives matter’.
Daisy, a 26-year-old from Pimlico, passed demonstrators in Parliament Square as she went for a run at around 10.30 on Saturday morning and claimed many were already drinking alcohol.
‘They were all drinking beers and there was already loads of cans lying round on the floor treating it like it was some sort of football away-day,’ she said.
‘It was a really tense and hostile atmosphere. I didn’t stay too long… it was really uncomfortable.’
Swathes of the public have expressed outrage at the recent removal of statues and have peacefully encircled some of the ones at risk of vandalism over recent days.
Ms Ayton joined the Mayor in urging people not to protest today for fear of violence from the far-right.
She added: ‘I think everyone is very worried about any type of race war that could occur because that takes away from what we’re trying to achieve, which is abolishing institutional racism and a massive war on a Saturday because of far-right takes away everything we’re trying to achieve over the last week.’
Protestors gather in support of the Black Lives Matter movement at a protest action in Hyde Park, central London in the aftermath of the death of unarmed black man George Floyd in police custody in the US
Far-right protesters walk away from smoke by a firework thrown by other protesters at Trafalgar Square in central London, as groups gather to coiunter-protest against a Black Lives Matter demonstration, this afternoon
Counter-protesters march up Whitehall to rally around statues which have been boarded up by Sadiq Khan for fear of them becoming flashpoints for violence
Far-right supporters turned up to a Black Lives Matter protest in Newcastle Upon Tyne this afternoon. Violence broke out as far-right protesters launched bottles and flares
The sun shone in Westminster this morning, as a pro-statue protester poses for a photograph outside Winsto Churchill’s boarded-up statue
Pro-statue activists rally round the boarded-up statue of Winston Churchill in Parliament Square this morning
Police officers patrol past a statue of Mahatma Gandhi boarded up in Westminster as officers brace for violence on the street today
The statue to wartime PM Sir Winston Churchill remains boarded up today as a Black Lives Matter organiser calls for it to be removed from Parliament Square
Several statues in Westminster remain boarded up today, including the memorial to the Women of World War II on Whitehall
The towering statue of Robert Clive, which is being targeted by anti-racism activists, is pictured today boarded up in Westminster
People next to a boarded up Mahatma Gandhi statue on Parliament Square today before the Black Lives Matter protest kicks off
A statue of Charles I boarded up in Trafalgar Square, Westminster, today ahead of a Black Lives Matter demonstration in central London
Sadiq Khan pointed to last week’s flag-burning and vandalism at the Cenotaph and said other statues such as Nelson Mandela (left, pictured today) and Mahatma Ghandi (right) were also at risk of being targeted
Yesterday, the Prime Minister waded into the debate on statues to slam the boarding up of his political hero, Churchill’s sculpture (pictured today)
Other anti-racism figures also expressed nervousness about clashes in the capital today.
Nick Knowles, from Hope Not Hate, this morning told BBC Today : ‘If you look whose planning to come into London today, you have seasoned football hooligans… BNP protesters.
Police lead rebellion against Priti Patel: Crime Commissioner defends officers for not intervening in BLM protests
A police and crime commissioner has defended the police officers who allowed the statue of Edward Colston to be pulled down during a Black Lives Matter protest.
Avon and Somerset’s Sue Mountstevens led the rebellion against Home Secretary Priti Patel as she blasted politicians who tried to ‘influence or second guess operational police matters’.
Ms Mountstevens and Chief Constable Andy March defended officers who stood powerless as protesters tore down the statue of the prominent slave trader and tossed it into the Bristol Harbour.
‘We fully support the decisions of the command team who acted with common sense in a proportionate way. It is not for politicians, local or national, to influence or second guess operational police matters,’ read a letter to stakeholders seen by the Times.
Superintendent Andy Bennett from Avon and Somerset Constabulary appeared on local radio earlier this week to explain why his force did nothing to stop the statue being heaved down from its plinth.
He said ‘to stop people from doing that act may have caused further disorder’ so the force decided ‘in terms of our policing tactics was to allow it to take place.’
‘You have some who are concerned about statues, but others who are looking for a fight and have openly said this on their social media channels.’
Denise Richards, one of the organisers of the recent wave of BLM protests, said many activists would avoid London today for fear of violent clashes.
She said: ‘No I won’t be coming to London, initially that was the plan but hearing what the far right were planning to do, for our chapter it was a non-starter.
Asked why she was backing off, she added: ‘If we don’t give into threats, people will lose their lives… I just don’t think it’s worth us losing our lives.’
The BLM route mandated by police starts at Hyde Park and goes to Park Lane, Hyde Park Corner, Piccadilly, Piccadilly Circus, Haymarket, Cockspur Street, Trafalgar Square before finishing in Whitehall, north of the police barrier.
Conditions imposed by Met Police, mean that a number of the statues in Parliament Square -including Winston Churchill’s – will only be accessible to pro-statue protesters.
The conditions were set under section 12 of the Public Order Act.
Speaking on BBC Breakfast, Mr Khan said: ‘The police can arrest, detain and charge, ultimately if you breach the conditions,’ he said, adding that this included people who were protesting peacefully.
Right-wing groups will have to assemble in Parliament Square and Whitehall, and must remain south of the police barrier.
Met Police commander Bas Javid has warned that ‘violence’ and ‘criminal behaviour against our officers’ will ‘not be tolerated.’
Scotland Yard also warned protesters to reconsider attending today due to the coronavirus pandemic, with concerns mass gatherings could help contribute to a second wave of the disease.
Met Police commander Bas Javid said: ‘I absolutely understand why people want to make their voices heard – there is a really strong depth of feeling out in the communities, but the Government direction is that we remain in a health pandemic and people are asked not to gather in large groups.
‘By doing so, you are putting your own safety, and that of your family or friends at risk. We are asking you not to come to London, and let your voices be heard in other ways.
‘We all saw the crowds that came together last weekend, and the demonstration on the whole was peaceful and reinforced the legitimacy of feelings within our communities.
‘However on both days, there was a minority intent on disorder, which resulted in incidents of violence and criminal behaviour, and assaults against our officers. This cannot be tolerated.’
Yet police allowed thousands of Black Lives Matter protesters to file through central London last night.
Demonstrators made their way to Trafalgar Square from Hyde Park freely. But police nabbed two ‘known’ activists who were wanted for questioning over previous protests.
Police chiefs have slammed Priti Patel after she called for a clampdown on Black Lives Matters protesters. One chief constable told The Times that her demands were a ‘chilling abuse of power’.
Police are erecting barriers on Whitehall to keep apart pro-statue activists and Black Lives Matter protesters later today (pictured this morning)
At Friday’s protest a huge security alert was in operation to protect historic statues from being damaged and several including that of Sir Winston Churchill were boarded up.
Officers, who could have arrested more protesters for breaking social distancing rules and illegally assembling, let the crowds move into Trafalgar Square.
Despite there being little trouble, riot police were on standby aware that tensions remained high and of the previous violence over the past week.
Meanwhile, police officers were booed and had obscenities shouted at them as they moved in to detain two of the protesters in Hyde Park yesterday afternoon.
Around 20 officers moved through peaceful protesters sitting on the grass to seize suspected activists thought to be behind disorder at previous protests, including an anti Capitalist demo in London’s stock exchange in February.
A man in a black top and baseball cap was among those led away as members of the crowd started to gather around the officers but who were then warned to be peaceful by one of the protest organisers on loudspeaker.
A spokesman for City of London Police said: ‘The individuals arrested by the Metropolitan Police today are wanted by the City of London Police for matters unrelated to their activity at any of the Black Lives Matter protests.
‘As it is an ongoing police investigation we can’t provide any more details.’
The Labour MPs who want to silence me are the racists, says Priti Patel: Home Secretary reveals the racist abuse she suffered at school, argues the real bigots are on the left and calls for Churchill to be freed
By Rebecca Hardy and Andrew Pierce for the Daily Mail
Home Secretary Priti Patel is incandescent. ‘They are trying to silence me because I don’t conform to their version of what it is to be an ethnic minority,’ she seethes. ‘They think they have a licence to speak for everybody from an ethnic minority community.
‘That is not the case. It is simply not the case. We’re all different. We’re all individuals. What they are saying is racist in itself, and I don’t think we should lose sight of that.’
‘They’ are the 31 MPs — ‘Left of Left of the Labour Party more associated with Jeremy Corbyn,’ says Priti — who have sent a vile letter accusing her of ‘gaslighting’ others from minority communities after she spoke about her own experience of racism earlier this week.
Priti, the daughter of Ugandan Asian immigrants, had been defending herself in the Commons on Monday against suggestions by Labour MPs that she did not ‘understand racial equality’ in light of the Black Lives Matter protests.
Home Secretary Priti Patel, pictured, said of the suggestions made by Labour MPs in the Commons on Monday: ‘They are trying to silence me because I don’t conform to their version of what it is to be an ethnic minority’
Churchill’s grandson Sir Nicholas Soames ‘deeply upset’ at covering of statue
Sir Winston Churchill’s grandson has said he was ‘deeply upset’ after his grandfather’s statue was defaced and has been boarded up ahead of more expected anti-racism protests in London.
Former Conservative minister Sir Nicholas Soames told the Daily Telegraph the incident, in which the word ‘racist’ was scrawled on the monument, shows British society has ‘lost its compass’.
It comes as Home Secretary Priti Patel reportedly called for the statue in Parliament Square to be uncovered ‘immediately’.
Sir Nicholas backed PM Boris Johnson’s condemnation of disorder during last weekend’s Black Lives Matter protests, and said London mayor Sadiq Khan was right to heed police advice and board up the statue and the nearby Cenotaph.
‘I find it extraordinary that millions and millions of people all over the world who look up to Britain will be astonished that a statue of Churchill and the Cenotaph, our national war memorial, could have been defaced in this disgusting way,’ he told the Telegraph.
‘These people who are marching did not set out to do this, but a very, very small, extremely explosive group of people who have made a practice of hijacking entirely responsible demonstrations are behaving in an unspeakable and cowardly manner.
‘It feels like a society that has lost its compass.’
For this vocal supporter of the late Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, it was her ‘the-lady-is-not-for-turning’ moment. Priti’s words, spoken clearly and calmly at the Despatch Box, were devastating in their emotional impact.
‘It must have been a very different Home Secretary who, as a child, was frequently called a Paki in the playground,’ she fired back. ‘A very different Home Secretary who was racially abused in the streets or even advised to drop her surname and use her husband’s in order to advance her career.
‘A different Home Secretary recently characterised . . . in The Guardian newspaper as a fat cow with a ring thrtough its nose — something that was not only racist but offensive, both culturally and religiously.’
Priti, 48, carries her Asian ethnicity with pride, not as a weapon. ‘People who know me know that I am a freedom fighter,’ she says. ‘My father always told me: ‘Hold your head up high and go forwards. We live in a great country where we have the freedom to succeed.’
‘Here I am, the most senior woman in the British Government — as Home Secretary not because of privilege, but through sheer hard work, as my parents taught me, and because I had the freedom to succeed.’
It is why Priti has agreed to this exclusive interview. We meet in the Home Office where, in the lift, there is a poster of Sir Robert Peel, who served twice as Prime Minister and is regarded as the father of modern British policing.
His is one of the statues that some Black Lives Matter activists want to ‘topple’.
Add to this the fact that London Mayor Sadiq Khan has, in order to protect them, ordered the boarding up of Sir Winston Churchill’s statue and the Cenotaph, a memorial to those who have given their lives for this country and, well, let’s just say there’s a lot of hand-slamming on the desk during the time we spend together.
Patel as a child, pictured with her father. She said: ‘I haven’t spoken to my dad this week because it’s been quite busy, but I know he would think that Churchill is a hero of our country’
‘We should ‘free’ Churchill,’ she says. ‘He is the defender of our democracy and freedom.
‘We have seen the desecration of war memorials [in some violent outbreaks involving a minority of protestors during last weekend’s Black Lives Matter marches], which is thoroughly unacceptable. Now we’re seeing a national hero being boarded up. I think this is a sad reflection on the Mayor of London because had he stood up for the right thing, had he called out the minority who were subversive in a peaceful protest, had he pulled up the thuggery in the right way, we would not be seeing the boarding up of our national hero.’
She slams her hand on the desk.
‘One of Dad’s sayings as I was growing up was: ‘We have freedom because we live in an open, democratic society.’ When we hear the Labour Party being divisive, being hateful — trying to erase the past, which is what, I think, they are trying to do — it incenses me.
‘I haven’t spoken to my dad this week because it’s been quite busy, but I know he would think that Churchill is a hero of our country. He fought against fascism and racism in Britain and Europe and has given us the freedom to live our lives the way we do today.’
What of the other statues that some Black Lives Matter activists are threatening to topple, the men who made their fortunes from the slave trade, for example?
‘We cannot pretend everything that has happened in the past is right, but that doesn’t mean we can erase it. We have to learn from our past and at the same time look forwards.
The now-Home Secretary with her husband Alex Sawyer at the Investec Derby Day in 2014 in Epsom, Surrey
‘We need our children to understand our past so they are prepared for the future. I can see some [of the Labour MPs] who signed that letter to me have failed to understand that. They seem to think everyone should be trapped in their version of history or hold their views. That is not acceptable.’
In this most unsettling of weeks, Priti Patel is, according to many political pundits, one of the few members of the Cabinet who have stepped up to the plate and ‘shown balls’ as the nation’s history is being literally vandalised in front of our eyes.
She is charming — but steely — just as her political hero Lady Thatcher was, and she is adamant that those who have committed these acts of vandalism and violence will be held to account.
Before our interview she had been in a meeting for more than an hour with police leaders from around the country.
‘Your readers have seen the appalling and sickening scenes of police officers being assaulted and abused day in day out, as we’ve seen peaceful protests subverted by thugs with alternative motivations.’
‘There is a lot of work taking place — gathering of evidence — before we charge people,’ she says.
‘We are still living with a Covid-19 pandemic, so it’s absolutely right to urge people not to go out and protest.
‘Here we are, sitting socially distanced,’ she says, gesturing to the three of us seated two metres apart. ‘There is a severe public health crisis in this country, so I urge people not to attend the protests [this weekend] and stay at home, particularly for the community that is most affected by coronavirus.’
The black community? She nods. ‘We are not like America — absolutely not. Our policing is not like America. We police by consent in this country. The police have operational independence. We are nothing like America.
‘The fact you are sitting here speaking to me, a woman from an Asian minority background, shows we have such great opportunities in this country. We really do.
‘It pains me to hear people talk our country down. If this was a racist country, I would not be sitting where I am. We are a great, great country and we are a world away from where we were 20, 30 or 40 years ago.’
Forty-odd years ago, Priti was that six-year-old child enduring the dreadful taunts of ‘Paki’ in the school playground.
‘Obviously we’re talking a long time ago, but I can still remember the level of hurt and fear.’
Were there tears? She nods.
Patel pictured as a baby with her mother, who came to the UK from Gujarat via Uganda. Forty-odd years ago, Priti was that six-year-old child enduring the dreadful taunts of ‘Paki’ in the school playground
‘Yes, I hated it,’ she says. ‘I remember being six or seven years old and wanting to go home for lunch to get away from it. It was just horrible. Real abuse.’
There’s a sadness writ large across Priti’s face as she speaks. ‘My dad decided he wanted to change my school. I never forget my Mum saying: ‘We can change the school but it doesn’t mean things will change dramatically.’
‘My mum and dad were shopkeepers, so we heard all sorts of nasty words and language. They were very different times.’
Priti’s parents, Sushil and Anjana, emigrated to Britain in the late 1960s so her father could study for a degree in mechanical engineering. But their plans were turned upside down when despot President Idi Amin, expelled Uganda’s Asian minority in the early Seventies.
Suddenly, Priti’s father was forced to give up his education to earn a living and support his parents, brother and sister who fled to England.
‘If you think what the British government did for Ugandan Asians, it’s phenomenal, which is why, in particular sitting here, I feel so strongly about our moral commitment and responsibility to the people of Hong Kong,’ she says. ‘The Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and I are committed to creating a bespoke way for them to come here.’
More than two million of them? She nods.
‘It speaks again for the values of our country and the open tolerant country we are. Look . . .’ she nods towards two maps of the British Isles on the wall of her office. One is from 2017 and one from 2019.
‘We won a General Election because we focused on levelling up across the country. We want to deliver that and give opportunity to all.’
She speaks with a passion that is borne from her own life experience.
‘Life was hard for my parents — but you just get on with it,’ she says. ‘When my dad gave up his studies, they rented a room from an elderly man who was known to me as Uncle Fred, in Finsbury Park [North London].
‘My dad bought a shop for his own parents and then he bought his own shop — a newsagent’s.
‘From there, we went to Norfolk, where he bought a post office and a grocery shop. I saw my mum and dad working so hard, seven days a week around the clock — early mornings, late nights — and enduring people being insensitive. I remember it fully.’
Again, there is sadness evident on her face.
‘We lived above the shop and I saw them sweat it out. They made sacrifices and just worked hard — huge long hours,’ she says.
Priti worked hard, too. She attended an all-girls ethnically mixed comprehensive school where she became head girl before becoming the first in her family to graduate from university.
‘I don’t think I had an ambition growing up,’ she says.
‘I’m very close to my family. My dad taught me book-keeping. He used to show me the VAT returns. After his father passed away, I remember him telling me that if anything happened to him, it was my responsibility to keep a roof over my mum’s head and look after my brothers and sisters.’
She tells me she has one of each and her face softens when she speaks of her family, which includes her husband, Alex Sawyer, and their son.
She and Alex met through politics, working together on a by‑election campaign. They married in 2004 at a register office, followed by a Hindu ceremony.
‘My husband is a Christian but he’s not overtly religious,’ she says. ‘He doesn’t really see colour and never has done.
‘My parents taught me to get on with everyone. My dad — love him to bits — has always been one of those to integrate into society and become part of the community.
‘Before standing as an MP, I worked in consultancy for big multi-national companies. I don’t see barriers in people. That’s how we live our lives, that’s how we bring up our son.
‘My family are international. We don’t see colour, gender, race or stereotype. That is part of my motivation for becoming a Member of Parliament: I am not a stereotype. The Labour Party does not speak for me. I will not be defined by the Left because I am from an ethnic community.
‘I was born in this country. I was brought up in this country. I’ve had equal opportunities. I didn’t go to the most glamorous of schools, but I worked hard and went to university. That’s intrinsic to who I am.’
She pauses for a moment, then shakes her head. ‘Do you know my first experience of sexism and racism [since becoming an MP] has come now?’ she says.
‘That cartoon in The Guardian [depicting Priti as a cow and Boris Johnson as a bull when he defended her in the Commons] was beyond offensive from a cultural perspective. It’s no secret I’m a Hindu, so from a religious perspective it’s just offensive. It was awful — very, very upsetting.’
Her jaw tightens.
‘When I hear what I did in the Commons this week or read what I read in that letter, I fear we are returning to some of the most ugly and divisive aspects of hateful politics.
‘But I will not be silenced.’
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