Boris Johnson says it is 'absurd and shameful' that Churchill statue is 'at risk’ amid Black Lives Matter protests
The Chruchill statue in Parliament Square has been covered up to protect it from damage
Boris Johnson has said it is "absurd and shameful" that a statue to Winston Churchill is "at risk of attack" from protestors.
The Prime Minister made the comments as he claimed the protests for racial equality had been "hijacked by extremists intent on violence" as he urged people to stay away from the gatherings.
It comes after protective boards were erected overnight around the Cenotaph and the statutes of Winston Churchill, Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi in Parliament Square to protect them from being vandalised.
Both the Cenotaph and the statue of the former PM had been defaced during largely peaceful protests earlier this week.
But the move was taken to protect the monuments ahead of further planned demonstrations over the weekend.
Other statues across the country have been damaged during the protests, with a statue to slave trader Edward Colston pulled down during demonstrations in Bristol before being thrown into the harbour.
But Mr Johnson condemed the actions, saying we could not "edit or censor our past".
And he said: "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 PM added: "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."
Meanwhile, Mr Johnson said he understood the "legitimate feelings of outrage" at the killing of George Floyd, a black man who died at the hands of police in America, and the "legitimate desire to protest against discrimination".
He added: "Whatever progress this country has made in fighting racism - and it has been huge - we all recognise that there is much more work to do.
"But 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."
Meanwhile, London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who ordered the protective measures for the statues, said while he supported the BLM movement, he feared further protests could risk spreading coronavirus and lead to "disorder vandalism and violence".
"Extreme far-right groups who advocated hatred and division are planning counter-protests, which means that the risk of disorder is high," he said.
"Be in no doubt these counter-protests are there to provoke violence, and their only goal is to distract and hijack this important issue.
"Staying home and ignoring them is the best response this weekend."
The comments come as the UK's Black Lives Matter group promised to unveil a new billboard on Westminster Bridge on Friday afternoon revealing the names of 3,000 people they say have died by "state and racist violence".
A spokesperson for the group said: "This billboard is a tragic reminder of the violence and neglect caused by state violence; but the communities affected are saying no.
"We will say the names of those we have lost, but make demands for change to ensure they did not die in vain. There is a crisis in our police, prison and immigration systems. "
They added: "These are inherently violent institutions that are beyond reform. There is a crisis in housing, schools, health care, social care and transport.
"Now is the time to defund the police and invest in our communities. End the gang matrix. End stop and search. End Prevent. End the hostile environment. Invest in the wellbeing and safety of our communities".