Black Lives Matter, which saw an initial wave of support in the U.K. following the death of George Floyd, is now encountering pushback as a number of Brits mark a distinction between combating racism and the organization’s more radical positions.
As protests took off across America in June, they soon spread to the U.K., where there was also a mix of peaceful protests against racism, violent outbursts, anti-police sentiment, and even vandalism of statues in places such as Bristol.
Meanwhile, in the British Premier League, soccer players “took the knee” before games and wore shirts emblazoned with “Black Lives Matter.”
But there has been pushback over concerns that it is being conflated with the far-left Black Lives Matter organization — which has a British offshoot and has promoted ideas such as defunding the police, and breaking up the nuclear family.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab last month objected to the taking of a knee, calling it a “symbol of subjugation,” and that he only takes a knee for Queen Elizabeth II and his wife when he asked her to marry him.
This week, left-wing Labour Party leader Keir Starmer raised eyebrows when he made a careful distinction between the Black Lives Matter “moment” and the organization itself — going so far as to call its push to defund the police “nonsense.”
“It’s a shame it’s getting tangled up with these organizational issues, with the organization Black Lives Matter, but I wouldn’t have any truck with what the organization is saying about defunding the police – that’s just nonsense,” he said.
Those remarks came after the BLM U.K. group tweeted out a series of screeds against Israel, including “calling for targeted sanctions in line with international law against Israel’s colonial, apartheid regime.”
It tweeted out a list of demands by the group Al Haq — including suspending free trade agreements with Israel, banning all trade with settlements and prosecuting those responsible for “war crimes” in the context of Israel’s “illegal occupation and apartheid.”
Starmer, who has taken a strong stance against anti-Semitism and last week sacked a shadow cabinet member for spreading “anti-Semitic conspiracy theories,” did not mention those tweets, but they may have influenced his thinking.
BLM later tweeted that British politics is “gagged of the right to critique Zionism, and Israel’s settler colonial pursuits, we loudly and clearly stand beside our Palestinian comrades.”
The radical bent of the Black Lives Matter movement is not a secret, and the primary U.S. organization boasts of its desire to “disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure” and to escape “the tight grip of heteronormative thinking.” In particular it has been a promoter of defunding the police, which has proved to be its most controversial policy proposal.
Chris Green, Conservative MP for Bolton, joined the criticism of the organization, saying that while he supports “black lives matters – lower case” he does not support the aims of the campaign.
“Their manifesto talks about the end of the western nuclear family and about defunding the police. We can see that in New York City – £1bn has been taken from the police. We can see that in other protests, we can see that in Minneapolis where George Floyd was killed, the council there has voted to defund the police,” he said, according to the Bolton News.
“When I talk to my constituents, this is not what they want. No one is saying, ‘I want less policing or fewer cops on the police’. Everyone is saying we want more,” he said.
The Premier League has since issued a statement clarifying its support for Black Lives Matter, saying that it “offered this backing as we wholly agree with the players’ single objective of eradicating racial prejudice wherever it exists.
“However, we do not endorse any political organization or movement, nor support any group that calls for violence or condones illegal activity,” the statement says. “We are aware of the risk posed by groups that seek to hijack popular causes and campaigns to promote their own political views.”
MPs had raised concerns about the displays of support for Black Lives Matter by the Premier League, and representatives had been quizzed at a parliamentary hearing, where MP Steve Brine said the league appeared to have shifted from a previous opposition to political messaging.
“We are an apolitical organization– we don’t support political organizations,” league chief executive Richard Masters said, according to Reuters.
Meanwhile, the Daily Mail reported that a number of commentators and presenters on Sky Sports, who had previously worn “Black Lives Matter” badges, had since taken them off during its coverage of the Brighton and Hove Albion v Manchester United fixture on Wednesday evening.
Southampton F.C. legend Matt Le Tissier told the Mail: “I just don’t agree with some of the points of that movement – specifically the defunding of the police and the anti-capitalist points are things I do not agree with.”
Meanwhile, Former Wolverhampton Wanderers player Karl Henry tweeted that Black Lives Matter U.K. is “just a front for a self-serving far-left political organization” and that “the majority of the UK have now had enough of that organization.”
“A new inclusive and politically-neutral anti-racism movement to follow and get behind is much needed,” he said. “Black people’s lives matter! The divisive #BlackLivesMatter organization, however, DOES NOT!”