Boris Johnson does not believe that the UK is a racist county, his spokesperson has claimed, after a number of anti-racism protests took place in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Labour’s shadow justice secretary David Lammy has said that the government should acknowledge ‘racism and prejudice exist in the United Kingdom as well as the United States’.
‘We must turn this moment into one of change and justice in the UK too,’ he said.
But asked about racism, Johnson’s spokesperson said: ‘The PM doesn’t doubt that there continues to be discrimination and racism but does not agree that this is a racist country.
‘We have made very significant progress on this issue but there remains more to do and we will not be complacent in our efforts to stamp out racism and discrimination where it happens.’
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The comments were somewhat contradicted by chancellor Rishi Sunak who tweeted: ‘As a British Asian of course I know that racism exists in this country.’
He continued: ‘And I know people are angry and frustrated. They want to see, and feel, change. But a better society doesn’t happen overnight – like all great acts of creation, it happens slowly and depends on the cooperation of each of us toward that common goal.
‘The truth is we have created a country far more inclusive and fairer than at any point in its history. Does this mean our story is over? No, but we shouldn’t ignore the hard work of the many generations who came before us.’
Despite claiming he does not believe the UK is a racist country, Johnson has previously made a number of racist and derogatory remarks as a journalist.
Tanmanjeet Singh Dheshi, the first turban-wearing Sikh in the House of Commons and a Labour MP, called on Johnson to apologise for his comments when he became prime minister.
He said: ‘If I decide to wear a turban, or you decide to wear a cross, or he decides to a kippah or skullcap or she decides to wear a hijab or burqas, does that then mean that it’s open season for right honourable members of this House to make derogatory and divisive remarks about our appearance?
‘For those of us who, from a young age, have had to endure and face up to names such as towel head or Taliban or coming from Bongo Bongo-land, we can appreciate full well the hurt and the pain coming from already vulnerable women when they are described as looking like bank robbers and letter boxes.’
To applause, he continued: ‘So rather than hide behind sham and whitewash investigations when will the prime minister finally apologise for his derogatory and racist remarks which have led to a rise in hate crimes?
‘And given the increasing prevalence of such incidents in his party, when will the prime minister finally order an inquiry in Islamophobia within the Conservative Party, something he and the chancellor promised on national television?’