LONDON (Reuters) - British Prime Minister Boris Johnson accused his political opponents on Tuesday of seeking to rewrite history, saying he and his Conservative Party were proud to sing the nationalistic 18th century song “Rule Britannia”.
The issue of how Britain deals with the legacy of parts of its history, particularly its role in the transatlantic slave trade and the colonial period, has been hotly debated in recent months in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protest movement.
A statue of a slave trader was torn down by protesters in Bristol in June, while a range of venerable institutions such as Oxford University have grappled publicly with what they should do about controversial objects they own.
“We’re proud of this country’s culture, history and traditions,” Johnson said in a speech to his Conservative Party’s annual conference.
“They literally want to pull statues down, to rewrite the history of our country, to edit our national CV to make it look more politically correct,” he said.
He did not explain exactly who he was referring to, but the comment came just after he set out what he saw as the contrast between the Conservatives and the Labour opposition.
Johnson alluded to a controversy that took place in August, when the BBC announced plans to omit the words from two patriotic songs, including Rule Britannia, from the pomp-laden climax of an annual classical music festival.
“We aren’t embarrassed about songs about how Britannia rules the waves. In fact, we are making sense of it with a Conservative national shipbuilding strategy,” Johnson said.
Rule Britannia includes the lyric: “Rule Britannia! Britannia rule the waves; Britons never, never, never shall be slaves.”
After a storm of criticism, including from Johnson who accused the broadcaster of “cringing embarrassment” about British history and culture, the BBC reversed course. The Labour Party said at the time it was the right decision.
Reporting by David Milliken and Estelle Shirbon; editing by Stephen Addison
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