Priti Patel says Winston Churchill's statue should be 'liberated'

Home Secretary Priti Patel says Winston Churchill should be ‘liberated’ as Sadiq Khan is accused of caving in to mob rule by covering up his statue

  • Scaffolding sprung up around Winston Churchill’s statue at Parliament Square
  • But Priti Patel has demanded Sadiq Khan uncover the sculpture ‘immediately’ 
  • Boris Johnson called the protective measures ‘absurd and shameful’ 
  • The Cenotaph and statues of Nelson Mandela and Gandhi also being boarded up
  • Black Lives Matters protests have ignited a discussion about Britain’s imperial past and figures associated with slavery

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. 

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. Pictured: Churchill’s statue on June 7, after it was daubed in graffiti during a Black Lives Matter protest

The former Prime Minister’s sculpture has now been boarded up to protect it from further damage. Boris Johnson called the move ‘absurd and shameful’

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

As debate rages over the future of many of Britain’s most famous monuments: 

  • Critics lined up to slam Sadiq Khan’s decision to board up statues and monuments as the Mayor of London says more will be closed off;
  • Furious Priti Patel is ‘reading the riot act’ to police ‘across the country’ ordering them to tackle violent protesters – as she pushes for 24-hour fast-track courts like those seen in 2011 riots
  • TV channels rush to pull shows that could offend as John Cleese slams ‘stupid’ UKTV now reversed decision to remove the ‘Germans’ episode of Fawlty Towers;
  • Stephen Lawrence’s brother Stuart, 43, backed BLM marchers but says ‘violence is not the answer’;
  • Suffolk Police forced to apologise after demanding middle-aged black couple provide ID for ‘driving a motor vehicle on a road’ and accuse them of ‘jumping on the bandwagon’ when they get upset;
  • A 125-year-old magazine has been discovered hidden inside the toppled statue of Edward Colston, leading to clues about who may have put it up.

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.

In an attempt to diffuse tensions, the campaign group Black Lives Matter urged supporters not to travel to the capital in case they came under attack.

‘We should free Churchill, a hero of our nation, who fought against fascism and racism in this country and Europe,’ said the Home Secretary

More than a dozen anti-racist marches are scheduled to take place across the country today. Bolton Council’s leader has ordered a two-metre steel fence to be built around the town’s cenotaph over fears it could be targeted.

Dozens of town halls are reviewing the status of monuments after a statue of 17th century slave trader Edward Colston was toppled in Bristol last weekend and thrown into the harbour.

Mr Khan has also ordered protection for monuments to Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi in Parliament Square and to George Washington and King James II in Trafalgar Square.

Despite backing the Black Lives Matter movement, he warned against protesting this weekend because of the risk of spreading coronavirus and because of the potential for clashes with the far Right.

The Prime Minister, who has written a biography of Churchill, said the Second World War premier ‘fully deserves his memorial’ even if some of his opinions would be unacceptable today.

He added: ‘The statue of Winston Churchill in Parliament Square is a permanent reminder of his achievement in saving this country – and the whole of Europe – from a fascist and racist tyranny.’

Addressing questions about historical figures, Mr Johnson said: ‘They had different perspectives, different understandings of right and wrong. But those statues teach us about our past, with all its faults. To tear them down would be to lie about our history, and impoverish the education of generations to come.’

Mr Johnson acknowledged the ‘legitimate feeling of outrage’ over the death of African-American George Floyd while under police arrest in Minneapolis last month.

Dawn breaks at the Cenotaph, Britain’s memorial to its glorious war dead, was boarded up on Thursday evening in anticipating of further Black Lives Matter marches this weekend

Workmen have this morning arrived at Guy’s Hospital in London to begin boarding up a statue to its slave-trading founder Thomas Guy following pressure from Black Lives Matter protesters

Fencing is put up around the Abraham Lincoln memorial in Parliament Square today ahead of BLM-related protests and counter-protests

He also accepted that the UK had ‘much more work to do’ in tackling racial inequality but added: ‘We cannot pretend to have a different history. The statues in our cities and towns were put up by previous generations.’

Miss Patel said the decision to hide the monument to Churchill was a ‘sad reflection’ on Mr Khan’s mayoralty.

She added: ‘Had he called out the minority in particularly who were subversive in a peaceful protest, and had he pulled up the thuggery in the right way, we would not be seeing the boarding up of our national hero.’

A spokesman for the mayor said: ‘The Home Secretary should have a word with her boss the Prime Minister, who did exactly the same when he was mayor of London – including boarding up the whole of Parliament Square to protect the statues from protesters. However, we all know she won’t, because this is simply political point scoring.

‘Sadiq has urged everyone thinking of protesting to stay at home instead this weekend and he has protected these monuments from damage or vandalism – which is the only responsible thing to do.’ Sir Nicholas described the Black Lives Matter movement as a ‘noble cause’ but said the protests had been hijacked by the ‘ghastly hard Left and hard Right’.

Scaffolders erect boarding around the George Washington statue on Trafalgar Square, London – yet another of the capital’s famous statues to be covered up

The former Tory MP added: ‘It is completely unthinkable that this should happen, that it should be necessary to board up a statue of Churchill who led this country through its darkest hour.

‘Without him, I don’t know where we would be today. I just think it is deeply disrespectful and humiliating for our country and it shows a total want of any realistic understanding of history.’

The 12ft high sculpture was unveiled by Churchill’s widow Clementine and shows him with his hand resting on his walking stick and wearing a military greatcoat. It is based on a photograph of Churchill inspecting the House of Commons after it had been wrecked by a German bombing raid in May 1941.

Hundreds of protesters defied pleas to stay away from central London by attending an anti-racism march in the capital yesterday. The protest was largely peaceful and crowds respected social-distancing measures.

Fears of clashes with far Right mobs proved unfounded.

Starting in Hyde Park, demonstrators made their way to Trafalgar Square, watched on by a sizeable police presence.

Several arrests were made during the Hyde Park speeches, which organisers said may have been linked to previous demonstrations.

I was abused at school for my race, but now Labour MPs who want to silence me are the racists: PRITI PATEL reveals her outrage of boarding up Churchill, contempt for rioters’ thuggery and how the REAL bigots in politics are on the Left

ByRebecca 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’

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.

‘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.

The now-Home Secretary with her husband Alex Sawyer at the Investec Derby Day in 2014 in Epsom, Surrey

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.

‘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].

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

‘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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