Boris Johnson has said it is “absurd and shameful” the Sir Winston Churchill statue in Parliament Square is at risk of attack by violent protesters.
Amid the ongoing debate about controversial statues in the UK in the wake of anti-racism protests, Johnson said “we cannot censor our past”.
He said Churchill, who was twice prime minister, was a “hero, and he fully deserves his memorial”.
Johnson’s comments come after statue was boarded up ahead of planned anti-racism protests this weekend.
Black Lives Matter organisers have since cancelled a protest in London’s Hyde Park on Saturday over fears it would be hijacked by far-right groups
The statue was vandalised during Sunday’s protests in London, with graffiti under Churchill’s name reading “was a racist”.
In a series of Twitter posts on Friday, Johnson, who wrote a biography on Churchill six years ago, wrote:
“The statue of Winston Churchill in Parliament Square is a permanent reminder of his achievement in saving this country – and the whole of Europe – from a fascist and racist tyranny.
“It is absurd and shameful that this national monument should today be at risk of attack by violent protestors. Yes, he sometimes expressed opinions that were and are unacceptable to us today, but he was a hero, and he fully deserves his memorial.
“We cannot now try to edit or censor our past. We cannot pretend to have a different history. The statues in our cities and towns were put up by previous generations.
“They had different perspectives, different understandings of right and wrong. But those statues teach us about our past, with all its faults. To tear them down would be to lie about our history, and impoverish the education of generations to come.”
Largely peaceful anti-racism protests have been sparked by the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, by a white police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota, last month. Four officers have been charged with one, Derek Chauvin, for second-degree murder.
Johnson added he “understands the legitimate feelings of outrage at what happened” and that “we all recognise that there is much more work to do” in fighting racism.
However, following some clashes between demonstrators and police in London on Sunday, Johnson added “it is clear that the protests have been sadly hijacked by extremists intent on violence”.
“The attacks on the police and indiscriminate acts of violence which we have witnessed over the last week are intolerable and they are abhorrent.
“The only responsible course of action is to stay away from these protests.”
Officers formed a circle round the monument to prevent a breach of the peace between rival demonstrators, Yahoo News UK understands.
Activists standing by the statue were said to have “kicked off” at anti-racism protesters in the vicinity.
Meanwhile, former chancellor Sajid Javid said of the boarded up Churchill statue on Friday: “So depressing.”
The Cenotaph, in nearby Whitehall, has also been protected with hoarding after it was targeted last weekend.