A Cabinet minister has told the City of London Corporation that “removing statues does more harm than good”.
It comes as the corporation plans to take statues of slave owners out of the Guildhall where it holds its meetings.
Housing, Communities, and Local Government Minister Robert Jenrick wrote to senior City politicians saying: “The removal of statues does harm rather than good.”
The City of London Corporation is planning to remove the statues of slave-owners Sir John Cass, and William Beckford, from their prime spot inside the historic Guildhall.
The Corporation’s influential policy and resources committee decided to move the statues after it set up a ‘tackling racism’ taskforce in response to the Black Lives Matter movement.
And it plans to spend £17,000 on a working group looking at the next step.
The statue of Sir John Cass will be returned to the Cass Foundation which gave it to the corporation.
Last year the Sir John Cass Foundation Primary school was renamed the Aldgate School once his links to slavery became widely tallked about.
However removing the 5.5m high statue of two-time Lord Mayor William Beckford, who accrued wealth from plantations in Jamaica and held African slaves, is likely to be very “costly” and more complicated.
The statue is in the grade I-listed Great Hall, which is also used for a range of outside events, including the Booker Prize ceremony. It has a stained glass window behind it and removal would need planning permission.
A report to the policy and resources committee looked at whether to get a stage or film set designer to build a “temporary concealment”.
The Corporation is also thinking about commissioning a new memorial to the slave trade in the City.
However Mr Jenrick told the City’s policy and resources committee that “the government want organisations to retain and explain, not remove, our heritage”.
And he said the national guidance applies to street names, as well as statues.
He added: “I hope you will consider this national advice carefully, given you are seen as a leading authority.”
He stressed that the Corporation “is itself a product of the City’s rich history. It is in the City’s own interests that heritage and tradition are given robust protection.”
The City heard views from 1,500 people in a consultation about statues and landmarks linked to slavery in the Square Mile.
However 1,067 submissions or 71 per cent, said that “statues and street and building names associated with slavery and racism, should be retained on public display and remain in situ”.
Responding to Mr Jenrick’s letter, a City of London Corporation spokesman said: “As our ‘Tackling Racism’ taskforce recommended, a working group has been set up which will now consider the next steps in regard to the two statues which currently stand in Guildhall.
“As Guildhall is a grade I-listed building, we will need to seek planning permissions and we will of course comply with any new legislation which might be brought in.”
The policy and resources committee will discuss its next move on Thursday (February 18).