Tory minister refuses to say if Patel was wrong to accuse England players of ‘gesture politics’

Stephen Barclay insists home secretary committed to tackling racism

Matt Mathers
Tuesday 13 July 2021 10:57
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Tory MP avoids questions over footballer Tyrone Ming calling out Priti Patel

A Tory minister has refused to say whether it was wrong for the home secretary to suggest that England players taking the knee before matches had been engaging in "gesture politics".

Stephen Barclay, the North East Cambridgeshire MP and chief secretary to the Treasury, defended Priti Patel during an interview on Tuesday morning.

He said that Ms Patel has "consistently condemned" racist abuse online and was taking steps to find and root out those responsible for the criminal behaviour, but would not be drawn on her comments about taking the knee.

Mr Barclay's remarks came after England international Tyrone Mings lashed out at the home secretary after she said she was "disgusted" by the racist abuse of players following Sunday night's final.

Responding directly to Ms Patel on Twitter, the Aston Villa defender said: “You don’t get to stoke the fire at the beginning of the tournament by labelling our anti-racism message as ‘Gesture Politics’ and then pretend to be disgusted when the very thing we’re campaigning against, happens.”

A minority of fans oppose England taking the knee to protest systemic racism and have booed the players over the decision.

In June, Ms Patel said the protest, which is associated with the Black Lives Matter movement, amounted to “gesture politics” and declined to say if she would boo herself, adding: "I've never gone to a football match to even contemplate that".

England manager Gareth Southgate, his players and the Football Association (FA) made clear before the Euros that the move to take the knee was to protest against discrimination, injustice and inequality and not a show of support for any political organisation or ideology.

Prime minister Boris Johnson, who initially refused to condemn the booing, has come under fire over the issue, with Labour accusing him and Ms Patel of being "hypocrites".

Appearing on BBC Breakfast earlier, Mr Barclay dodged questions on the home secretary's stance on the issue, when pressed on whether she on the “wrong side of the argument” on the England players’ decision to take the knee.

"The home secretary has repeatedly taken a stand against racism and has herself has been the subject of appalling online racist abuse," he said.

"She has consistently condemned racist abuse online and she has taken action as Home Secretary against some of the extreme right-wing groups that are responsible for this."

He later added that legislation will seek to fine social media companies if they fail to act against online racism.

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 footballers in the UK, partly to demonstrate that racism should not be tolerated in the sport.

Asked about taking the knee, the home secretary told broadcaster GB News in June: "I just don't support people participating in that type of gesture, gesture politics, to a certain extent, as well."

On whether England fans were right to boo the national team, she said: "That's a choice for them, quite frankly."

Former Tory Party chairwoman Baroness Warsi also criticised Ms Patel after her tweet earlier this week, suggesting she and the government are guilty of "dog whistle" politics.

"It's time to stop the culture wars that are feeding division," the Conservative peer tweeted. "Dog whistles win votes but destroy nations."

Dame Heather Rabbatts, the first person from an ethnic minority to serve on the board of the FA, called on the public to back the players.

"Ultimately it is for the overwhelming majority of the fans who don't subscribe to those (racist) views to stand up and make their voice heard: This is our club and we will not stand for this abuse of our players," she told the BBC.

"And the voice of the many needs to drown out the voice of the few."

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