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Anti-slavery MP lands on list of Brits with ‘links to the slave trade’

The propriety of Edmund Burke’s image was questioned over the reported colonial business of his brother

The famous 18th century Irish philosopher and critic of the slave trade, Edmund Burke, has been listed as a person whose imagery may not be appropriate for the UK Parliament in the wake of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests.

Burke was a Dublin-born stateman and is widely credited with being the key founder of conservatism. He served as an MP from 1766 to 1794. Modern-day British legislators have raised questions about whether Burke’s legacy should be preserved.

His name was included in “individuals and activities related to the British slave trade and the use of forced labour,” as part of a review of the parliament’s art collection launched in 2020 in response to the BLM protests. The contradiction between Burke’s well-documented anti-slavery position and his name being on the list was highlighted on Wednesday by The Telegraph newspaper. 

“It’s definitely nonsense that Burke was a supporter of the slave trade. From his first records, he was an opponent of slavery. He found it abhorrent,” Prof. Richard Bourke, a Burke expert and professor of political thought at King’s College Cambridge, told the daily.

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Burke was included on this list because Richard, his younger brother and not for what he had said. English Heritage’s 2013 assessment described Burke as: “a successful merchant and Caribbean land speculator,” based on a book written by contemporary author William Burke, who may have been Edmund’s kinsman. 

The 2020 list of supposedly questionable art lists seven depictions of Edmund Burke in Parliament’s collection, including a photo, three prints, a painting and two sculptures. 

His life-size monument stands in St Stephen’s Hall inside the Palace of Westminster, while the portrait is displayed in the Member’s Dining Room, according to The Telegraph.

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