Boris Johnson has himself faced allegations of racism throughout his career.
London CNN  — 

Most Black people in Britain believe the governing Conservative Party is racist, an exclusive CNN/Savanta ComRes poll has revealed, complicating Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s efforts to respond to the demands of anti-racism campaigners.

As demonstrations and debates about Britain’s colonial legacy sweep the country, 58% of Black Britons said they think Johnson’s party is “institutionally racist.” A substantial minority of White people, 39%, said they believed the same.

The findings highlight a major challenge for Johnson, who has been accused of making racist comments in past newspaper articles, as he battles to retain public confidence in his administration amid the coronavirus pandemic and burgeoning Black Lives Matter protests.

Ministers have repeatedly urged people not to attend public protests, citing a ban on large gatherings enacted to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, and have also condemned the forced removal of a statue of a slave trader in the southwest of England city of Bristol. Johnson also said through his spokesperson earlier this month that he “does not agree that this is a racist country,” leading to allegations that he does not grasp the scale of racism in Britain.

The results of CNN’s poll are released on the third national Windrush Day, which was established to commemorate the men and women from the Caribbean who arrived in Britain to help rebuild the country in the years that followed World War II.

Some members of this Windrush generation – named after the ship that brought one of the earliest groups of Caribbean migrants to the UK in 1948 – were wrongly deported from the UK when they could not provide paperwork that proved their right to remain, resulting in a political scandal in 2018. The then Prime Minister, Theresa May, when she was Home Secretary between 2010 and 2016, described the measures as designed to create a “hostile environment” for people who were in the UK illegally.

In CNN’s poll, 55% of Black people said they did not have faith in the UK government to prevent a similar scandal from occurring again, while 38% said they did. The figures were virtually reversed for White Britons – 55% trusted the government to avoid another scandal, while 39% did not.

A Home Office spokesperson told CNN that the department is “considering the findings of the Windrush Lessons Learned review because we want to begin a new chapter.” Home Secretary Priti Patel is likely to give a formal response to that review before the summer.

“The Home Secretary has been clear that the mistreatment of the Windrush generation by successive governments was completely unacceptable and she will right those wrongs,” the Home Office added. “12,000 people now have documentation proving their statements and we are making more compensation payments week on week.”

The Conservative Party has long battled allegations of racism, which have flared up on several occasions in its postwar history. A deeply anti-immigrant polemic known as the “Rivers of Blood” speech by the Conservative MP Enoch Powell in 1968, race riots in the 1980s under the prime ministership of Margaret Thatcher, and the more recent Windrush fiasco have all dented the party’s image among Black and minority ethnic groups.

A spokesperson for the party told CNN: “We’re proud to be a party that champions and supports opportunity for all, of all races, religions and backgrounds. Prejudice and discrimination have no place in the Conservative Party and we will never stand by when it comes to abuse of any kind.”

Last week, the Prime Minister announced the establishment of a commission to examine racial inequalities in the UK. But the reported involvement of a Downing Street aide in setting up the commission has too proved controversial; critics say Munira Mirza is unsuited to the task because she has previously denied that widespread racism exists in the UK, writing in 2017 that she believed institutional racism was “a myth.” Downing Street has said the membership of the commission had yet to be decided.

Johnson’s own views on race and religion have also dogged him. In a newspaper column in 2018, he described Muslim women who wear face veils as resembling “letterboxes” and “bankrobbers.” In 2002 he called people from the British Commonwealth “flag-waving piccaninnies” with “watermelon smiles.” Johnson has said the quotes have been taken out of context.

Bad news for the Labour Party too

Savanta ComRes surveyed 1,535 British adults for CNN earlier this month about their views towards race relations in the UK. The findings, which laid bare public perceptions towards racism in several aspects of British life, make difficult reading for both of the country’s major parties.

Around a third of both Black and White respondents said they believed the opposition Labour Party to be institutionally racist. The party has been dogged by frequent allegations of anti-Semitism within its ranks, which peaked during the period under its previous leader, Jeremy Corbyn. Labour’s new leader, Keir Starmer, has pledged to stamp out anti-Semitism in the party.

Although the poll did not ask specifically about anti-Semitism, the broader findings on racism demonstrates the scale of the challenge Starmer faces. A Labour spokesperson said Starmer had “set out steps to rebuild trust and confidence in Labour on the issue of racism,” including “a number of internal measures aimed at ensuring the party embodies the values it stands for.”

Thousands have protested against racial inequality in the UK throughout June, in a wave of activism prompted by the police killing of George Floyd in the United States on May 25.

The demonstrations have sparked a national conversation about Britain’s colonial legacy, much of which has centered around the question of whether statues of slave traders should remain standing in British cities.