Priti Patel has said she does not support England’s footballers taking the knee in protest against racial injustice, labelling the act “gesture politics”.
The home secretary did not condemn football fans who had booed players for taking the knee, calling it a “choice for them” after Gareth Southgate’s side faced jeers from a minority of fans at their first match of Euro 2020.
Her comments come after a Number 10 spokesperson said the prime minister wants the public to “cheer them on, not boo” at the tournament, and explicitly supported those who decide to take part in the protest.
But Patel took a different stance to Boris Johnson, telling GB News:
I just don’t support people participating in that type of gesture, gesture politics, to a certain extent, as well.
She claimed the Black Lives Matter protests last summer had a “devastating” impact on policing. And she criticised the toppling of the statue of 17th century slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol. She told broadcaster GB News:
It’s all well to support a cause and make your voices heard. But actually, quite frankly, and we saw last year in particular with some of the protests that took place, I speak now very much from what I saw in the impact on policing.
It was devastating. Not only that, I just don’t subscribe to this view that we should be rewriting our history, pulling down statues, the famous Colston statue, and what’s happened there.
Toppling statues is not the answer. It’s about learning from our past, learning from our history and actually working together to drive the right outcomes.
Asked whether England fans were right to boo the national team, she said:
That’s a choice for them, quite frankly.
And when pressed on whether she would boo the team for taking the knee, she added:
I’ve not gone to a football match to even contemplate that.
Booting out racism in football
The symbol of anti-racism solidarity gained attention in American football in 2016 as players protested against police brutality and racism in the US.
The act has since spread further and was adopted by football players in the UK partly to demonstrate that racism should not be tolerated in the sport.
But there have been incidents of a minority in the crowd booing players as they take the knee before games, including before England’s friendly matches against Austria and Romania last week.
A minority of England fans once again defied calls not to jeer the players as they took the knee before kick-off in the Euro 2020 clash with Croatia on Sunday.
Requests not to boo fell on some deaf ears, with an audible round of jeers from some of the expected 22,500 crowd at Wembley. Cheers from the vast majority soon drowned them out, though.
Labour leader Keir Starmer said taking the knee before football games is “a choice for each team”. He refused to condemn Scotland for deciding not to perform the gesture, except for when they play against England.
But he added: “I profoundly don’t think you should boo your own team before kick-off.”