Boris Johnson has been urged to provide central government funds for a major memorial commemorating the victims of the transatlantic slave trade – 12 years after he publicly endorsed a campaign to build the statue.
The fresh call for the prime minister to intervene in the project’s funding comes after protestors pulled down a statue of the 17th century slave trader Edward Colston, as demonstrations under the Black Lives Matter banner were held across the UK.
Despite publicly backing the campaign – Memorial 2007 – to build a 14ft bronze statue depicting the history of slavery while he was mayor of London, the government declined to fund the Hyde Park memorial in December 2019.
Mr Johnson, who unveiled a maquette of the statue as he endorsed the campaign, said in 2008 it was “important that this history is never forgotten”, adding: “Hyde Park is a fitting site for a permanent memorial to the millions who lost their lives and the courageous people who fought to end the brutal transatlantic slave trade.”
In a letter seen by The Independent, the then-London mayor also wrote to the campaign group the following year expressing his support for the statue and “to endorse your bid for planning permission from Westminster Council”.
His letter went on: “I do hope the project gains the necessary consent and the statue and gardens can be completed without delays.”
On Monday, the group set up a new £4m fundraising effort, warning that “time is running out”. Planning permission for the memorial in London’s Hyde Park expired in autumn 2019, but the organisers believe they can revive the project.
Patrons of the campaign included the campaigner Baroness Doreen Lawrence, who was appointed as Sir Keir Starmer’s race relations adviser shortly after he was elected as Labour leader earlier this year.
“Right now, there is no major memorial in England to commemorate the victims of the transatlantic slave trade,” they said. “There are millions of people who were brought over from Africa in ships and kept as slaves. Many of them built Britain, but were subjected to cruelty and forced into inhumane conditions.”
The organisers added: “We need the government to fund this. That’s why we’re calling on the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to fund the first dedicated major memorial to enslaved Africans before the deadline.
“When asked, the government said it ‘does not have any dedicated funds available at present for this memorial’. The government have supported important memorials to World War One, Commonwealth war graves, the Holocaust, and the Srebrenica genocide. They need to do this for slave trade victims too.
“To lose this opportunity to build a landmark would be a grave shame and a social injustice. The government would be ignoring the contribution made and ignoring the abuse they faced.”
In response, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said: “We carefully consider each request for funding. Memorial 2007 approached MHCLG in 2018 and the department was unable to provide support at the time.
“We are supportive of the aims of the monument and the organisation. The suffering caused by slavery and the slave trade was among the most dishonourable and abhorrent chapters in human history.”