In an interview with the Evening Standard, Boris Johnson said he disagrees with Oriel College’s decision to support removing a statue of Cecil Rhodes.
Responding to a question concerning the vote in favour of removal, Johnson said: “I’m pro-heritage. I’m pro-history, and I’m in favour of people understanding our past with all its imperfections… I want to build people up, not tear people down. If we go around trying to Bowdlerise or edit our history in this way, it’s like some politician sneakily trying to change his Wikipedia entry.”
Previously, Johnson has spoken out about the removal of statues, tweeting: “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.”
He continued saying that “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 protesters. Yes, he sometimes expressed opinions that were and are unacceptable to us today, but he was a hero, and he fully deserves his memorial.”
Johnson has previously written a biography of Churchill, which was described by The Guardian as “self-serving but spirited”, noting “Johnson’s not so subtle attempts to draw a parallel between himself and Winston Churchill.”
The question about Rhodes came after the Evening Standard challenged Johnson on allegations of male dominance within his government, which he denied. The interviewers wrote: “A culture war is rumbling on in this country and one that Johnson has not hesitated to play for advantage amongst the Tory faithful.” Johnson did not talk about racism or Black Lives Matter in this interview.
Johnson also discussed the recent announcement that up to three million Hong Kong residents will be able to settle in the UK following China’s violation of their freedoms. Johnson described China’s behaviour as “having a chilling effect on free speech and civil society in Hong Kong.”
Oriel College, Rhodes Must Fall Oxford, and Boris Johnson’s press office have been contacted for comment.