City of London makes U-turn over slavery statue removal

FILE PHOTO: A man wearing a mask outside Guildhall in the City of London during the coronavirus outbreak, London, Britain, April 14, 2020. REUTERS/John Sibley/File Photo

LONDON (Reuters) - The City of London’s statue of an 18th century slave-owning former mayor has won a stay of execution after representatives of the financial district decided to halt plans for its removal to reconsider all options and avoid a clash with government.

A committee of City representatives agreed in January to remove the statue of William Beckford from its Guildhall home as part of a wider debate about how Britain remembers and represents history, following last year’s Black Lives Matter protests.

Beckford was twice Lord Mayor of London in the 18th century and had plantations in Jamaica with slaves.

The same committee agreed last Thursday to take a step back and halt the removal plans, two City councillors said on Monday.

Instead, a working group will evaluate all options by September, with the final decision taken by full council, chief commoner (senior councillor) Brian Mooney said.

“There are various options - do nothing, remove it, or a middle way such as contextualising it by having some sort of board,” added councillor Oliver Lodge.

The U-turn came eight days after Britain’s local government minister Robert Jenrick told senior City representatives that contested heritage should be retained and explained.

“It is in the City’s own interests that heritage and tradition are given robust protection,” Jenrick said.

Reporting by Huw Jones; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky