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 UK 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.
It comes after a Number 10 spokesman said that 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.
However, 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 as she criticised the toppling of the statue of 17th century slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol.
“It’s all well to support a cause and make your voices heard,” she told broadcaster GB News.
“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.”
Pressed on whether she would boo the team for taking the knee, the home secretary added: “I’ve not gone to a football match to even contemplate that.”
Last week, when asked if Johnson backs players taking the knee, the Number 10 spokesman said: “Yes.
“The Prime Minister respects the right of all people to peacefully protest and make their feelings known about injustices.
“The Prime Minister wants to see everybody getting behind the team to cheer them on, not boo.”
Earlier this week Scotland announced players will continue “taking a stand” against racism at the European Championships.
The national team decided to “stand up against racism”, rather than taking the knee, in March following a series of racist incidents in the Scottish game this season.
Scottish Conservative MSP Sandesh Gulhane said that people should be allowed to do what they want.
He told STV News: “I think it’s really important that people are allowed to do what they want and if people feel that taking a knee is their way of showing anti-discrimination, their way of showing anti-racism, their way of making a political protest, then by all means do it.
“I don’t have any problem with doing that, in fact I want people to engage, I want people to think about the issue and make their own decision.
“You saw today in the Scotland match, the Scotland team stood against racism and that’s absolutely fine as well, as long as people… and awareness are being raised and they’re being able to actually think about it.”