In this week’s session of Prime Minister’s Questions, Boris Johnson told the House of Commons: “Nobody defends booing of the England side.”
But a number of Conservative MPs, including several ministers, did defend fans who booed England players for “taking the knee” before their Euro 2020 matches.
Mr Johnson was repeatedly asked about the Conservative Party’s position on the England team and its collective decision to “take the knee” before games.
Manager Gareth Southgate called the gesture “a show of solidarity with the Black community, including members of our squad who themselves continue to suffer abuse on a regular basis”.
Some of Mr Johnson’s MPs have criticised kneeling as “divisive” because of its association with the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement in the United States, while other Conservatives have backed the move.
Politicians from all sides of the House of Commons have condemned the online abuse that some Black England players received after losing to Italy in the final of the tournament.
But it’s not accurate to say that “nobody” defended football supporters who booed players for going down on one knee.
Some Conservative backbenchers and prominent ministers refused to condemn the protests and defended the right of fans to boo the players.
Boris Johnson “respects the right” to boo
In an off-camera briefing in early June, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman initially declined to condemn fans for booing the players, saying Mr Johnson “fully respects the right of those who choose to peacefully protest and make their feelings known”.
Several days later, a Downing Street spokesman said: “The Prime Minister wants to see everybody getting behind the team to cheer them on, not boo.”
Priti Patel: “A choice for them.”
The Home Secretary gave an interview to broadcaster GB News last month and was asked: “Do you think England fans are right to boo?”
She replied: “Well, that’s a choice for them, quite frankly.”
Ms Patel was then asked: “Would you be booing if you were in the stands?” She replied: “Well, I’ve not gone to a football match to even contemplate that.”
Jacob Rees-Mogg: “They are booing the BLM movement”
In a recent episode of his podcast on the Conservative Home website, the Leader of the House of Commons was asked: “When fans boo taking the knee, what do you think they’re booing?”
Mr Rees-Mogg replied: “I think they are booing the BLM movement. I think that’s quite clearly a reaction to what is now known about BLM and the underlying political message, which is one that is not sympathetic to the United Kingdom as a nation.”
The interviewer asked: “You don’t think they’re racists?”
Mr Rees-Mogg said: “No, I don’t think there’s any evidence that they’re racists. I think calling them racists is unfairly attributing views to people who have been part of a movement – football – that has taken huge strides to reduce racism.”
Gillian Keegan: Booing fans “would like to end racism”
Apprenticeships and Skills Minister Gillian Keegan, echoed the sentiment that fans were not booing from racism in an edition of BBC Question Time last month.
She said: “The people who are booing – I’m pretty sure they would like to end racism as well.”
Marco Longhi: “Fans are not racist”
The Conservative backbencher Marco Longhi MP wrote a Facebook post in response to an article quoting former Labour MP John McDonnell.
The former Shadow Chancellor had said the booing at England’s warm-up game against Austria was “sickening” and “racism”.
Mr Longhi wrote: “John, I have news for you: fans are NOT racist. Labour are so out of touch.
“Fans just want to watch football without having the agenda of a Marxist supporting organisation rammed down their throats by overpaid prima donnas competing for who can virtue signal the most.
“This woke agenda is DIVISIVE and it needs to stop: SPORT is about bringing people together – not promoting political agendas. Racism is abhorrent and should be called out but there is no value or merit in ‘taking the knee’.
Boris Johnson told Prime Minister’s Questions: “Nobody defends booing of the England side.” But some of his ministers and backbench MPs did defend fans who booed England players for taking the knee.
Some Conservatives clearly felt that football fans had a right to protest against the gesture because of its association with the American Black Lives Matter movement, which critics accuse of being Marxist and anti-police.
Other prominent Conservatives, like the Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, have explicitly said that fans should not boo their own players, while others have called for the party to back footballers who take the knee.
Former Conservative minister Johnny Mercer tweeted his supporter for Tyrone Mings after the England defender criticised Priti Patel.
Boris Johnson said his government is taking “practical steps” to combat racist abuse, including toughening football banning orders and fining social media companies who fail to “get hate and racism off their platforms”.