UK politicians on Wednesday condemned the killing of George Floyd, whose death at the hands of US police sparked protests across the country and the world, but the government was also grilled on taking a firm stand against police brutality.
At Prime Minister’s Questions, a weekly British parliamentary tradition where the prime minister takes questions from the leader of the opposition and MPs as a whole, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer opened his line of questioning with the situation in America.
Starmer said that he was "shocked" by the death of George Floyd. In response, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he condemned what happened to George Floyd, but that people should protest peacefully.
Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner tweeted: “Absolutely correct that @Keir_Starmer opens up #PMQs about the death of #GeorgeFloyd asking the PM what his position was on that horrendous event and the subsequent demonstrations #BlackLivesMattter”.
Ian Blackford, the leader at Westminster of the Scottish National Party (SNP), asked Johnson what he told President Donald Trump about the killing. He also asked Johnson if he could say “black lives matter."
Johnson said: "Of course black lives matter", but added that protests must be peaceful.
Blackford noted that Johnson did not disclose what he told Trump, and then pressed the prime minister on whether the UK will review the export of riot gear to the US.
Johnson said he was happy to look into the matter but that British exports are covered by the most scrupulous guidance in the world.
On Wednesday, Emily Thornberry, the shadow international trade secretary, called on the UK to suspend the sale of riot equipment to the US, and review whether British-made riot gear was being used against protesters in America.
The Labour MP wrote a letter to International Trade Secretary Liz Truss, which said: “If this were any other leader, in any other country in the world, the suspension of any such exports is the least we could expect from the British government in response to their actions, and our historic alliance with the US is no reason to shirk that responsibility now.”
“The British public deserve to know how arms exported by this country are being used across the world and the American public deserve the right to protest peacefully without the threat of violent repression,” she added.
Last Sunday, British Black Lives Matter (BLM) demonstrators filled Trafalgar Square in protests at the killing of George Floyd.
BLM protesters have called for further demonstrations in London: Hyde Park on June 3, Parliament Square on June 6, and the US Embassy on June 7.
The US has seen protests since last week when a video went viral showing Floyd being pinned down by Derek Chauvin, a white police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota, as he was being arrested.
Chauvin knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.
Shortly after, Floyd appeared to lose consciousness, but Chauvin maintained his position on the victim.
He died shortly after being taken to a hospital.
His last words were "I can't breathe," which became the slogan of the nationwide protests.
Floyd was killed by "asphyxiation from sustained pressure," an independent autopsy found Monday.