Johnson says those who racially abuse England players online face stadium ban
British prime minister Boris Johnson departing 10 Downing Street for prime minister questions at parliament on Tuesday. Photograph: EPA/Vickie Flores
Boris Johnson has promised that people who direct racist abuse at England’s footballers online will be banned from attending matches, and that social media companies could face fines if they fail to delete abusive posts.
Referring to the online racist abuse of three black footballers after England’s loss to Italy last Sunday, the prime minister said football banning orders would be changed to include such activity.
“If you are guilty of racist abuse online of footballers, then you will not be going to the match; no ifs, no buts, no exemptions and no excuses,” he told MPs during prime minister’s questions.
But Labour leader Keir Starmer said Mr Johnson’s words rang hollow after his official spokesman and senior ministers, including home secretary Priti Patel, had dismissed the footballers’ anti-racism protest of taking the knee at the start of matches as gesture politics.
“In the last few days everybody has seen that England’s black players have been the target of disgusting racist abuse following Sunday’s match – disgusting. This is really simple, either the prime minister is with the England players in their stand against racism or he can defend his own record, and that of his ministers and some of his MPs, but he cannot have it both ways.
“Can he tell the house whether he now regrets failing to condemn those who booed England’s players for standing up to racism? Yes or no,” Sir Keir said.
Mr Johnson asserted that he had made clear that nobody should boo the England team, but Sir Keir reminded him that his spokesman had said the prime minister “fully respects the right of those who choose to . . . make their feelings known” and Ms Patel had said it was “a choice for them quite frankly”.
“The government have been trying to stoke a culture war and they have realised that they are on the wrong side and now they hope that nobody has noticed. Why else would a Conservative MP boast that he is not watching his own team?
“Why else would another Conservative MP say that Marcus Rashford spends too much time ‘playing politics’, when he is actually trying to feed children that the government will not?
“And why will the prime minister refuse time and time again, even now, to condemn those who boo our players for standing up against racism? What is it that this England team symbolises that this Conservative party is so afraid of?” Sir Keir said.
Conservative MPs have expressed concern about the party’s approach to the debate about taking the knee, with leading Brexiteer Steve Baker warning it could be a decisive moment for them.
“It is a wake-up call to the Conservative Party of just how powerful our words are when we navigate these issues,” he told the BBC.
“We have to get alongside those players who are taking the knee and understand they are not saying defund the police, they are not anti-capitalist. What they are doing is saying ‘we suffer racism’.”