UK to Protect Statues From ‘Woke Militants,’ Minister Says

January 17, 2021 Updated: January 18, 2021

The UK government will enact new laws to protect statues in England from attacks by “woke militants” who want to censor the nation’s past, Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said on Sunday.

“We cannot—and should not—try to edit or censor our past,” he wrote in the Sunday Telegraph. “Any decisions to remove these heritage assets will require planning permission and councils will need to do so in accordance with their constitution, after consultation with the local community.”

“Local people should have the chance to be consulted whether a monument should stand or not,” he said. “What has stood for generations should be considered thoughtfully, not removed on a whim or at the behest of a baying mob.”

Jenrick said that details of the new legislation will be set out in Parliament on Monday.

17th century merchant, Edward Colston, as it falls into the water during a Black Lives Matter protest in Bristol, England
File photo shows the statue of 17th century merchant, Edward Colston, as it falls into the water during a Black Lives Matter protest in Bristol, England, on June 7, 2020. (Keir Gravil via Reuters)

The issue of how Britain should deal with the legacies of its past, especially its role in slavery and colonialism, has been the subject of heated debate since the statue of Edward Colston, a 17th-century merchant, was toppled by Black Lives Matter (BLM) protesters in Bristol in June 2020.

During protests last summer sparked by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody, rioters in the UK also defaced a statue of Winston Churchill in London’s Parliament Square, taping a “Black Lives Matter” sign to it and spraying it with graffiti.

Robert Jenrick
Britain’s Housing, Communities, and Local Government Secretary Robert Jenrick arrives at 10 Downing Street in central London, UK, on March 17, 2020, (Tolga Akmen/AFP via Getty Images)

“It is absurd and shameful that the statue of Winston Churchill should be questioned,” said Jenrick.

To tear down historical monuments is to “needlessly denigrate and distort our past, rather than to educate, inform and unite people,” he wrote.

“It is a path we see our American cousins are well travelled upon. And we can, I hope, agree that we don’t want to follow.”

In September 2020, the British government wrote to several museums and cultural institutions warning that their public funding could be called into question should they remove statues or other historical objects that have become the focus of protests or complaints.

The government holds that “such monuments are almost always best explained and contextualised, not taken and hidden away,” Jenrick said.

“It is our privilege in this country to have inherited a deep, rich, fascinating and yes, often complex, past,” he wrote. “We are mature enough as a society to understand that and to seek to pass it on, warts and all. To do otherwise would leave our history and future diminished.”

Mary Clark and Tom Ozimek contributed to this report.