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Boris Johnson does not disown past comments on race, but repeats apology for offence caused

Prime minister claims he “always” said it was wrong to boo football players for a taking a knee

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Thursday 15 July 2021 13:27 BST
Johnson denies claim he 'stoked division' by refusing to condemn fans who booed England taking the knee

Boris Johnson today declined to disown his former comments about black “piccaninnies” and Muslim women looking like letterboxes, instead repeating a previous apology for the offence they caused.

The prime minister was speaking shortly after launching new measures to ban people from football matches for posting racist comments online in the wake of England’s defeat in the Euro 2020 final on Sunday.

He was challenged by The Independent over whether his controversial remarks would continue to be taken as a green light for racism until he makes clear that he regrets having made them - as he was asked to in the House of Commons on Wednesday.

But instead of disowning the comments, made in newspaper columns during his time as a journalist, the prime minister again said he apologised for the offence they caused.

“The best thing I can say about that is I’ve obviously apologised in the past for the things that I have said that have caused offence and continue to apologise for them,” he said.

“I think what people really want to see from a government are practical steps to stamp out racism and make sure we live in a happy, tolerant, generous and loving society.

“That’s what I want to see.”

Speaking after a speech in Coventry, Mr Johnson claimed he had “always said” it was “wrong” to boo England’s football players for taking the knee against racism before matches.

And he said he disagreed with suggestions that he and his ministers had been responsible for stoking division over taking the knee.

In fact, it was only after several days of declining to condemn those who barracked the anti-racism protest that Downing Street said on 11 June that the PM thought people should “cheer them on, not boo”.

“I think that racism has absolutely no place in our society and I think the England team represented the very best of us and our country, and I think the overwhelming support, the outpouring of love for the England team, after the match on Sunday showed this country at its best and at its most united,” said Mr Johnson.

“I think what we all want to do is take practical steps to prevent racism in all its forms.”

Pressed on the failure to condemn “from the start” the booing of the players, Mr Johnson replied: “I always said that it was wrong to boo the England players, and that is my firm belief.”

Mr Johnson pointed to the government’s Online Harms Bill which will allow social media companies which allow race hate to be peddled on their platforms to be fined up to 10 per cent of their global revenues.

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