People who cause criminal damage to memorials in the UK will face jail terms of up to 10 years under a new bill being discussed in the British Parliament.
Currently, the maximum sentence for such offences is three months if the value of the damage is less than £5,000 ($6,941), according to the Sentencing Council.
But the Police, Crime, Sentencing, and Courts Bill, which was published on Tuesday, increases the maximum penalty for criminal damage to a memorial from three months to 10 years, the government said in a statement.
The issue of how Britain should deal with the legacies of its past, especially its role in slavery and colonialism, has been the subject of heated debate since the statue of Edward Colston, a 17th-century merchant, was toppled by Black Lives Matter (BLM) protesters in Bristol in June 2020.
During protests last summer sparked by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody, rioters in the UK also defaced a statue of Winston Churchill in London’s Parliament Square, taping a “Black Lives Matter” sign to it and spraying it with graffiti.
Such actions are not widely supported by the British public. Recent research by think tank the Henry Jackson Society showed that 84 percent of black Britons oppose the toppling of historical statues.
The UK government said in January that it will enact new laws to protect statues in England from attacks by “woke militants” who want to censor the nation’s past.
Recently, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden warned that Britain’s cultural institutions are also under pressure from left-wing campaign groups.
Left-wing groups “put bullying pressure on institutions to rapidly change their approach, to remove our history, to remove items and statues and so on,” he said on March 2 at the History Matters conference organized by Policy Exchange, a London-based center-right think tank.
“I think that that is a danger that needs to be guarded against, because it can take generations to build history and heritage, and it can take just a few short-termist decisions to remove it and to remove it for good,” he said.
Dowden wrote to several museums and cultural institutions last September, warning that their public funding could be called into question should they remove statues or other historical objects that have become the focus of protests or complaints.
Reuters, Mary Clark, and Tom Ozimek contributed to this report.