Black Lives Matter: Boris Johnson must apologise for 'racist' comments before he can be taken seriously, warns Bonnie Greer

'He should begin any speech he gives on this subject with an apology for his past mistakes and a personal vow to do better'

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Tuesday 09 June 2020 13:25 BST
Bonnie Greer says Boris Johnson must apologise for racist comments

Boris Johnson has been told he must apologise for his past “racist” comments before his support for Black Lives Matter will be taken seriously.

The prime minister has issued a video message, recognising the death of George Floyd had awakened “a widespread and incontrovertible, undeniable feeling of injustice” among black people.

But playwright and campaigner Bonnie Greer said the support would carry more weight if Mr Johnson acknowledged the hurt caused by his notorious newspaper articles.

One described African people as having “watermelon smiles”, another said women in burqas looked like “bank robbers”, and Mr Johnson also wrote that seeing “a bunch of black kids” scared him.

“Boris has said some things in the past that were unkind, that were hurtful, that were racist,” Ms Greer said.

“He should begin any speech he gives on this subject with an apology for his past mistakes and a personal vow to do better.”

Ms Greer added: “He is the leader. It just takes one address and it heals – and he needs to do that.”

In the message, posted on Twitter, Mr Johnson recognised “discrimination in education, in employment, in the application of the criminal law”, adding: “We are all right to say black lives matter”.

He said: “We who lead and who govern simply can’t ignore those feelings because in too many cases, I am afraid, they will be founded on a cold reality.”

However, he added that, because ethnic-minority communities were paying a “disproportionate price” during the pandemic, he could not support protests that broke the rules.

Mr Johnson has repeatedly refused to apologise for his newspaper articles, including when he was branded a “racist” in the Commons by the SNP leader last year.

During the general election campaign, he was confronted in a live TV debate and accused of fuelling the UK’s problem with racism.

But he declined to backtrack, saying: “Of course, in so far as my words have given offence, over the last 20 or 30 years that I've been a journalist, people have taken those words out of my article and escalated them. Of course I'm sorry for the offence that they have caused.”

Mr Johnson then he referred to his own Muslim great-grandfather, who he said came to Britain because it was “a beacon of generosity and openness”.

In 2018, the future prime minister was investigated under the Conservative party’s code of conduct over his comments about veiled Muslim women.

But the panel cleared him, finding he had been “respectful and tolerant” and was fully entitled to use “satire” to make his point in his Daily Telegraph column.

Later, asked why the prime minister did not address criticism that he had made racist comments in the past, his spokesman said: “He has addressed them on a number of occasions in the past.”

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in