The home secretary, Priti Patel, has described the Black Lives Matter protests that swept the UK last year as “dreadful” and said she did not agree with the gesture of taking the knee.
The protests, in which demonstrations took place in more than 260 towns and cities in June and July, were the largest anti-racism protests in Britain for decades.
They were sparked by the death of George Floyd while in the custody of police in Minneapolis. Outrage grew at the fate suffered by Floyd, whose heart stopped on 25 May as a police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes, according to a medical examiner, with solidarity protests held across the world.
As part of the demonstrations in the UK, statues of slave traders including that of Edward Colston in Bristol, were toppled and a memorial to Sir Winston Churchill in central London was vandalised with the words “is a racist”.
There has since been a public reckoning with Britain’s slavery and colonial past. Earlier this year, a Guardian investigation revealed that scores of tributes to slave traders, colonialists and racists had been taken down or were to be removed across the UK, with hundreds of others under review by local authorities and institutions.
However, during a radio interview on Friday morning, Patel said she did not support the protests. Asked if she would be prepared to take the knee, she replied: “No I wouldn’t, and I would not have done at the time either.
“There are other ways in which people can express their opinions, protesting in the way that people did last summer was not the right way at all … I didn’t support the protests. Those protests were dreadful.”
She added: “We saw policing as well coming under a great deal of pressure from some of the protest. I don’t support protest and I also did not support the protests that were associated …”
Interrupted, she sought to clarify that she was not criticising the right to protest but rather the “dreadful” action last year.
Patel’s comments came after the Commons leader, Jacob Rees-Mogg, accused the London mayor, Sadiq Khan, of overseeing “loony leftwing wheezes” following the creation of a landmark commission to improve diversity in the capital’s public spaces.
Khan announced he would be forming the commission days after the statue of Colston, a 17th-century slave trader, was pulled down in Bristol. The commission for diversity in the public realm will review what makes up London’s public realm, discuss what legacies should be celebrated, and make a series of recommendations that will help to establish best practice, the London mayor’s office said.
The commission is not being established to preside over the removal of statues, it added.