Priti Patel says fans have right to boo England team for ‘gesture politics’ of taking the knee

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Home Secretary Priti Patel (PA)
Home Secretary Priti Patel (PA)

Football fans have a right to boo the England team for “taking the knee” in protest at racism, the home secretary has said.

Priti Patel said the anti-racism protest associated with the Black Lives Matter movement amounted to “gesture politics” and dodged a question about whether she would boo herself.

She claims Black Lives Matter protests had had a “devastating” impact and criticised the pulling down of the “famous” Bristol statue of slave trader Edward Colston.

“I just don't support people participating in that type of gesture politics,” she told broadcaster GB News.

Ms Patel said it was “all well to support a cause and make your voices heard” but with regards to the BLM protests that have taken place in the UK, “the impact on policing... it was devastating”.

“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 outcome.”

And the home secretary declined to answer whether she would boo the England team herself.

Asked whether England fans had a right to boo England’s national team, she said: “That's a choice for them quite frankly. I've not gone to a football match to even contemplate that.”

Watch: I will not let police be subjected to trial by social media, says Patel

Within hours Downing Street had made clear that Boris Johnson disagrees with his home secretary, however. No 10 said that the prime ministers wanted to “see fans cheering and not booing” the team. 

A minority of fans oppose England taking the knee to protest systemic racism, and have been booing the team – including during their Euro 2020 opener against Croatia on Sunday.

But a larger majority of fans cheering drowned out the booing at the start of the game – a display in line with wider polling. A survey by YouGov for Sky Sports found 54 per cent of England fans support the move, with just 39 per cent opposed and 7 per say saying they don’t know.  

Jo Stevens, Labour’s shadow culture secretary, said: “It beggars belief that a day after the excellent win against Croatia, senior government ministers are still trying to provoke a fight with the England football team. 

"Ministers should get on with their jobs and get behind the home nations.”

Ms Patel’s comments put her at odds with England manager Gareth Southgate, who said players had to “recognise the impact they can have on society” and “give them the confidence to stand up for their teammates and the things that matter to them as people”.

"I have never believed that we should just stick to football,” he explained in a lengthy article for the Players’ Tribune website setting out his views.

Southgate spoke of a “responsibility to the wider community to use my voice”, adding: “So do the players.”

In a statement over the weekend the Football Association backed Southgate, saying: "There can be no doubt as to why the players are taking the knee and what it represents in a footballing context. We encourage those that oppose this action to reflect on the message you are sending to the players you are supporting."

Ms Patel in February described Black Lives Matter protests as “dreadful” and said she would not take the knee herself in solidarity.

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