Boris Johnson has said it is time to stop “our cringing embarrassment” about UK history after the BBC’s Last Night Of The Proms was thrown into controversy.
Media reports had claimed the annual celebration of classical music was considering dropping “patriotic” songs Land Of Hope And Glory and Rule Britannia! due to their perceived association with colonialism and slavery.
“If it is correct… I think it’s time we stopped our cringing embarassment about our history, about our traditions and about our culture, and we stop this general bout of self-recrimination and wetness,” Mr Johnson told reporters.
Revealing that he had been advised against speaking out on the matter, he added: “I wanted to get that off my chest.”
The broadcaster has now said orchestral versions of the songs will be performed and the event – which is going ahead without an audience – will include “familiar, patriotic elements”.
The Sunday Times initially reported the BBC had discussed dropping several traditional songs as Finnish conductor Dalia Stasevska was “keen to modernise the evening’s repertoire and reduce the patriotic elements”.
It said the BBC was “yet to agree” the final programme but was aware about the “ongoing debates over race equality” following recent Black Lives Matter protests.
The song Rule Britannia! includes the line: “Rule, Britannia! Britannia rules the waves; Britons never, never, never, shall be slaves.”
Some senior politicians raised concerns about the reported change, with Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden tweeting that he had raised concerns with the BBC.
Speaking on Sky News’ Kay Burley @ Breakfast programme, Business Secretary Alok Sharma said he would like to hear the lyrics sung.
“I think what’s really important is, if you’re looking at this sort of stuff, is that you should be looking to tackle the substance of problems, rather than symbols,” he said.
“I think that’s a point the prime minister has made very well.”
Outgoing BBC director general Lord Hall said he backed the decision over the Proms – but suspected the lyrics would return at some point.
“The whole thing has been discussed by David (Pickard, the director) and his colleagues of course it has,” he told BBC Radio 4.
“The point is they’ve come to the right conclusion, which is it’s very, very hard in an Albert Hall that takes over 5,000 people to have the atmosphere of the Last Night Of The Proms.”