Acknowledging that the PM’s top team did not observe a minute’s silence for George Floyd, Boris Johnson’s official spokesman explained: ‘The PM began Cabinet by discussing the anger and the grief that is not just felt in the US but around the world, including the UK, following the death of George Floyd.
‘He said those who lead and govern simply cannot ignore the depth of emotion that has been triggered. The PM said there was an undeniable feeling of injustice and that people from black and minority ethnic groups do face discrimination in education, in employment and in the application of criminal law.’
The prime minister, who is no stranger to controversy around racism, claimed this week that the UK is ‘not a racist country’, following the backlash surrounding the incident in Minneapolis. Mr Floyd, a black man, was knelt on by a white police officer for more than eight minutes and among his last words were ‘I can’t breathe’. The incident has sparked a global uprising against racism and has seen protesters clash with police in London and the statue of a slave trader torn down in Bristol.
The spokesman said the Cabinet did not participate in the minute’s silence in Parliament today and continued: ‘The PM said we’re a much, much less racist society than we were but we must also frankly acknowledge that there’s so much more to do in eradicating prejudice and creating opportunity.’
According to Number 10, the PM also reiterated his strong words for those who break social distancing or attack public property or police, saying they ‘will face the full force of the law’.
Mr Johnson last night tweeted a video of his thoughts on the protests, in which he urged people to ‘work peacefully and lawfully to defeat racism and discrimination wherever we find it’.
Those comments provoked The Voice, ‘Britain’s leading black newspaper’, to retweet criticism of the PM for his previous conduct on race-related issues.
He has been attacked for previously writing about ‘flag-waving piccaninnies’ and describing African people as having ‘watermelon smiles’, among other things. Mr Johnson has argued some of the controversial comments were ‘wholly satirical’.
Mr Johnson also previously dismissed the former US president Barack Obama’s views on the EU because he is ‘part-Kenyan’ and therefore had an ‘ancestral dislike of the British empire’.
This week the PM condemned some protesters for ‘subverting’ the cause with ‘thuggery’, in comments echoed by the Home Secretary, Priti Patel.
The Chancellor Rishi Sunak, who is British Asian, struck a different tone, suggesting that racism ‘of course’ exists in the country.