London mayor Sadiq Khan has accused Home Secretary Priti Patel of political point-scoring over the boarding up of a statue of Winston Churchill.
Ms Patel strongly criticised the move – accusing the mayor of failing to stand up to “thuggery” and demanding Britain’s “national hero” was set free.
However Mr Khan said the decision to protect the statue in Parliament Square – along with the Cenotaph and monuments to Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi – was a “wise” precaution.
To anyone planning to join #BlackLivesMatter protests this weekend: for your safety please stay at home and find a safe way to make your voice heard.
To the extreme far-right groups hijacking this crucial cause: Londoners have no time for your hatred.pic.twitter.com/fPTj75eHmT
— Sadiq Khan (@SadiqKhan) June 13, 2020
Following the toppling last weekend of the statue of the slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol, he said there were fears the London statues could become a “flashpoint for violence” involving extreme far-right protesters.
“She (Ms Patel) needs to see the intelligence that we have seen that the far right are intending to come to central London,” he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.
“One of their justifications for doing so is to protect these statues but also they are intending to remove statues of people like Nelson Mandela, so I think we have done the wise, precautionary thing.
“Rather than seeking to make political points out of this, what I hope is that central government would work with regional government and the police to make sure there isn’t violence, vandalism or disorder, or inadvertently the spreading of the virus.”
His comments came as police said that Black Lives Matter protesters expected to converge on the capital on Saturday must disperse by 5pm, in an attempt to avoid a repeat of last weekend’s clashes in the capital.
Earlier, Ms Patel said the decision to board up the statue of Churchill – which was previously daubed with graffiti – was a “sad reflection” on Mr Khan.
“We should free Churchill, a hero of our nation, who fought against fascism and racism in this country and Europe. He has given us the freedom to live our lives the way we do today,” she told the Daily Mail.
“We have seen the desecration of war memorials, which is thoroughly unacceptable. Now we’re seeing a national hero being boarded up
“I think this is a sad reflection on the mayor of London because had he stood up for the right thing, had he called out the minority who were subversive in a peaceful protest, had he pulled up the thuggery in the right way, we would not be seeing the boarding up of our national hero.”