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Boris Johnson’s racial equality review is ‘written on back of fag packet,’ says David Lammy

‘Black people aren’t playing victim, as Boris indicated, they are protesting precisely because the time for review is over’

Lizzy Buchan
Political Correspondent
Monday 15 June 2020 09:22 BST
Racial inequality review written on the 'back of a fag packet', says David Lammy

Boris Johnson’s plan for a new racial inequality commission was “written on the back of a fag packet” to assuage the anger of Black Lives Matter protesters, the shadow justice secretary has said.

In an excoriating attack on the government, David Lammy said it was “immature” for the UK to still be holding discussions about whether racism exists and condemned Mr Johnson for announcing another review rather than taking action.

Mr Lammy also questioned why the prime minister promised a new cross-governmental commission into racial inequality in a lengthy Telegraph article, which focused mostly on the ongoing row over statues of controversial historical figures.

Mr Johnson also came under fire for saying that the government wants to stop the “sense of victimisation and discrimination”.

“It feels that yet again in the UK we want figures, data, but we don’t want action,” Mr Lammy told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“Black people aren’t playing victim, as Boris indicated. They are protesting precisely because the time for review is over, and the time for action is now.”

He said: ”I don’t know why he’s announced a commission, behind the paywall, in The Telegraph, buried in the middle of yet another article about Churchill.

“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 it was written on the back of a fag packet yesterday to assuage the Black Lives Matter protesters.

“Get on with the action, legislate, move. You’re in government – do something.”

Mr Lammy, one of the UK’s most senior black politicians, said he felt like he was being “gaslighted” by questions of whether racism was an issue in Britain.

He said: “Frankly, given all the art that has been made, all the writing that has been delivered – whether in reviews or black writing – all the comedy that has been made that has made people laugh, of course those things still exist in our society.

“The time now is frankly for majority culture to do something about it.”

He added: “It is deeply worrying and frankly immature that Britain is still having a conversation about whether racism exists.”

Mr Lammy said it was only the Conservatives who were focused on the row over statues, which began with the toppling of a bronze memorial to the slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol.

But Shaun Bailey, the Conservative London mayoral candidate, said the Labour mayor Sadiq Khan was “talking about rewriting London’s history” by reviewing landmarks in the capital with links to the slave trade.

Mr Bailey, one of the most senior black Conservative politicians, said: “It is very easy to remove the statue of a slaver, that we could all agree on.

“But what are you going to do when you get to someone who is a hero to some and a villain to others?

“It’s just going to make our entire conversations about race.”

Lord Woolley, the founder of Operation Black Vote and chair of the Race Disparity Unit’s advisory group, said the prime minister’s language about discrimination was “frankly unhelpful”.

He said: “It is real discrimination and he knows that, that’s why he said we need to tackle racism. Some of his language is frankly unhelpful but let’s focus on what we agree on.”

David Isaac, chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said there had already been “countless reports” on the issues surrounding racial inequality and called for “urgent action”.

“We know the scale of the problems we face to tackle the entrenched racial inequality in our country. It is not new,” he said.

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

The prime minister used his article to defend the statue of Winston Churchill in Parliament Square, which was vandalised during an earlier protest, and to warn against attempts to “photoshop” Britain’s cultural landscape.

He praised Churchill as “one of the country’s greatest ever leaders” and insisted 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.

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