Keir Starmer has said that it was “completely wrong” for protesters to pull down the statue of 17th-century slave trader Edward Colston, though it “should have been taken down a long, long time ago”.
During an LBC phone-in session this morning, the Labour leader discussed the Black Lives Matter protests over the weekend, which saw protesters throw the statue in the harbour in Bristol.
Referring to the actions of protesters, he said that “nobody should condone lawlessness” and that the statue should have been removed “properly with consent” and placed in a museum.
Activists have argued that removal of the statue – and the idea of adding a plaque to note his involvement in the slave trade – had been the subject of debate in the city for years, but they took action because it had stalled.
Commenting on Colston, Starmer said: “This was a man who was responsible for 100,000 people being moved from Africa to the Caribbean as slaves… who were branded on their chests with the name of the company he ran.
“20,000 died on route and they were chucked in the sea. He should not be a statue in Bristol or anywhere else.”
The party leader also condemned the actions of Labour MP Barry Gardiner in breaking social distancing rules to join the protests last week. He said: “He shouldn’t have done it, it was wrong to do it.”
During the session, Starmer was asked whether he had concerns over the impartiality of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission as suggested by his predecessor Jeremy Corbyn.
The new leader replied: “No, I don’t. Not in the slightest.” He stressed that he would be implementing the EHRC recommendations once the equalities watchdog had concluded its investigation into Labour antisemitism.
One LBC caller asked Starmer where the promised “constructive opposition” from Labour had gone, after Tory MPs and political commentators had said that Starmer’s approach had toughened up over recent weeks.
“We have voted with the government and not caused divisions in parliament,” Starmer said. But he added that it is the job of opposition to point out flaws in the government coronavirus response.
Starmer set out criticism of the government’s 14-day quarantine plans for new arrivals to the UK, suggesting instead that travellers should be tested for Covid-19 upon arrival and not leave the airport until receiving their results.
The opposition leader also said he wanted the furlough scheme to be extended for those who fall into the “shielding” category during the coronavirus crisis. The job retention scheme is due to end in October.