Thank you for writing to me about the tragic death of George Floyd and the subsequent protests in the US and across the world against racism and discrimination.
Like you, I was horrified by the violent images of the US police officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on George Floyd’s neck and to learn of his subsequent death in police custody. I understand that Derek Chauvin has been charged with second-degree murder and that other officers present have been charged with aiding and abetting. There will also be a Federal review carried out by the Justice Department. I am relieved to see the US authorities acting quickly in this case and I hope that they will act on the enormous US and global outcry to enact systematic change which prevents such appalling incidents in the future.
With regards to racism and discrimination in the UK, I believe that this country has made major strides. That said, I do agree there is much more to do in creating opportunity for black and ethnic minority communities, and I can assure you that I wholeheartedly support this cause.
On the specific matter of the UK police, our police have a long-established tradition of policing by consent, working closely with communities and only using force when absolutely necessary. Following George Floyd’s death, Chief Constables from forces across the country published a statement in which they acknowledged that there might be times where they fall short. However, they were explicit in their condemnation of discrimination and made categorically clear that they will tackle racism and bias and shine a light on injustices wherever they find them. I’m proud that our police have such a strong relationship with the UK public and I agree with the Chief Constables that we must strive to continuously learn and improve.
I support peaceful protest as a fundamental part of any democracy and I understand why so many of you felt such a clear desire to make your voices heard. However, we are still fighting a deadly virus, so it is important that those who protest do so while social distancing, for their own safety. As the Prime Minister has made very clear, protesters have no right to attack the police, and I do not support the minority who break the law or threaten police officers.
Many have written to me about the sale of anti-protest equipment to the US. I know the Government takes its export control responsibilities very seriously, and that the UK operates one of the world’s most robust and transparent export control regimes. Each export licence application is considered on a case by case basis against the Consolidated EU and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria. The consolidated criteria provide a thorough risk assessment framework, requiring the government to think carefully about providing equipment and its capabilities. My understanding is that the Government will not grant an export licence if doing so would be inconsistent with the criteria. In this specific case, I have ensured that Ministers are aware of the points you make.
I’m extremely concerned about the figures that suggest that people from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds are at greater risk of becoming seriously ill with COVID-19. The disproportionate impact of the virus on particular groups was recognised by my colleagues in government, so Public Health England was commissioned to conduct thorough research into this matter. PHE has now published its report, but it has been commissioned to carry out further work to better understand the key reasons behind the disparities identified in the initial report and the relationships between the different risk factors. I will continue to monitor this issue, and I will press ministerial colleagues to take urgent action to safeguard those at greater risk of COVID-19 and keep up the fight against all health inequalities.