There is “much more that we need to do” to tackle racism but the UK should not try to “re-write the past” by removing historical symbols, the PM has said.
Writing in the Telegraph, Boris Johnson said he was setting up a commission to look at all “aspects of inequality”.
He said “no-one who cares about this country” could ignore the anti-racist demonstrations sparked by the killing of George Floyd in US police custody.
However, he said the UK’s heritage must be left “broadly in peace”.
Mr Johnson also condemned the “far-right thugs” involved in violent protests on Saturday, which saw more than 100 people arrested in London after thousands gathered saying they were protecting statues.
He said their mission was “utterly absurd” but he added that it was “deplorable” that Sir Winston Churchill’s statue had been in danger of attack.
It comes after the statue in Parliament Square was spray-painted with the words “was a racist” last weekend. In Bristol, anti-racism protesters pulled down a statue of slave trader Edward Colston.
The PM said he was setting up a commission to look at inequality as it was “no use just saying that we have made huge progress in tackling racism”.
He wrote: “There is much more that we need to do; and we will. It is time for a cross-governmental commission to look at all aspects of inequality – in employment, in health outcomes, in academic and all other walks of life.”
Questions over inequality in health outcomes have been repeatedly raised during the coronavirus pandemic after figures showed more people from ethnic minority backgrounds were “disproportionately” dying with the virus.
Thousands have people have marched in the UK as part of Black Lives Matter demonstrations following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis last month.
Mr Johnson said that “the serious points” being raised by the anti-racist demonstrators should be taken seriously.
However, he said that did not mean “wasting time” disputing the life and opinions of “every historical personality currently immortalised in bronze or stone”.
“Let’s fight racism, but leave our heritage broadly in peace. If we really want to change it, there are democratic means available in this country – thanks, by the way, to Winston Churchill,” he said.