A Winston Churchill-themed cafe was stormed by left-wing protesters shouting ‘Churchill was a racist’, after the owner invited them to the restaurant to discuss their concerns. The Blighty UK Cafe in Finsbury Park had 14 protesters burst into the cafe on Saturday morning and stand in front of startled diners, chanting about racism and taking it in turns to read from a prepared script.
One of the group declared: ‘We cannot accept the unashamed colonial and gentrifying presence of this cafe’ before the rest of the group chanted ‘You will never make colonialism palatable’. The apparent leader of the group, Halimo Hussein, is a politics student and co-president of Equality and Liberation at the School of African Studies University of London and a staunch supporter of the Labour party. She demanded that the cafe owner apologise to the local community and immediately change their decorations ‘for their poorly thought and insensitive branding’.
While running for office in her student union, she said: ‘I want to bring decolonial politics to the forefront in our fight for institutional change.’ As the group continued to read from their script, they urged customers in the packed cafe to boycott until ‘they take the concerns of the community seriously’, and chanted ‘It is our duty to fight for our freedom’ and ‘We have nothing to lose but our chains’.
Other group chants included ‘It is our duty to win’ and ‘We must love and support each other’. The owner, Chris Evans, 47, called the police after the group went into the cafe and said: ‘I have already invited these people in for coffee to discuss their concerns. ‘Instead, they have come in and shouted at my customers. My staff have been left frightened and so I am reporting the incident to the police today.
‘I would much rather they came to debate in a civilised manner what it means to be British in modern Britain. ‘As far as I am concerned, if you cannot celebrate Britain and great Britons you are just erasing history.
‘And if you cannot celebrate Churchill, you cannot celebrate anyone.’ Mr Evans had previously reported vandals to police for defacing the cafe’s striking street art mural of Churchill’s famous two fingers pose alongside the slogan ‘double shot’, jokily claiming that he was ordering a double espresso. After a spate of graffiti attacks over several years, he decided it was easier simply to ditch the design.
The protesters are also leaving scathing online reviews slating the cafe, where diners at the cafe drink from Churchill mugs underneath model Spitfires and Union Jack flags. The cafe’s signature dish is ‘The Winston’ – a traditional full English breakfast with Cumberland sausage and Yorkshire black pudding.
Customers can pose for pictures alongside a sculpture of the wartime leader or inside a World War II air raid shelter. As they walked out, a customer hit back: ‘Churchill fought for our freedom’, to which the group began chanting: ‘Churchill was a racist’. A sister cafe called Blighty India in Tottenham boasts a neon portrait of Gandhi, Bollywood posters and India flags as part of the cafe chain’s branding celebrating Commonwealth countries.
Its menu offers a vegan breakfast called ‘The Gandhi’ as well as ‘Bombay Hash’, ‘Bengali Breakfast’ and ‘Eggs Kerala’ and the cafe stages regular curry nights, yoga classes and creates cocktails with names like ‘Bombay Sunrise’. A debate is also raging about the cafes on social media.
Activists from Black Lives Matter UK tweeted: ‘So glad people are calling this Empire nostalgia out’. But other customers and local residents are calling the campaign against the cafes ‘madness’. A resident wrote: ‘Sorry but is this a joke? They’re a small business providing employment in the local area.
‘Stop harassing them! Surely there are more worthy campaigns!?
‘I didn’t know they existed, so I’ll now definitely give them my custom!’
Alexander Hamilton, who was dining during the demo, tweeted: ‘Just been a reluctant part of some form of anti-Churchill protest at @BlightyUKCafe. They had a script and everything. Could have at least bought a coffee’. Since the video emerged online, the SOAS Student’s Union have released a statement of solidarity with Miss Hussein on their Facebook page condemning national news outlets which have covered it.
They say that the coverage the protest has gained and the attention focused on Miss Hussein is ‘racist’. The statement says: ‘The cafe exercises a concerted historical amnesia of British colonialism, which is offensive to those who continue to experience institutional racism.