Government backs England players taking the knee – but not for Black Lives Matter

‘Only right that we back our team,’ says Nadhim Zahawi

Adam Forrest
Friday 11 June 2021 12:40 BST

Related video: Gareth Southgate vows England players will continue taking knee

A cabinet minister has claimed Boris Johnson’s government does support the England players in taking a knee at the Euros this summer – but does not support Black Lives Matter.

Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said it was “only right that we back our team” when asked if the prime minister supported the England squad’s decision to take the knee before matches.

But the minister said he wanted to “differentiate” between an anti-racism gesture and Black Lives Matter as a “political” movement.

“The elegant way, quite passionate way, that the England manager Gareth Southgate put this is exactly where the prime minister is, where this government is,” Mr Zahawi told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

He added: “I think he articulated the emotions of young men beautifully and I think it’s only right that we back our team.”

However, education minister Gillian Keegan claimed on BBC Question Time on Thursday night that taking the knee was “creating new divisions” in sport. “Do I think it’s symbolism more than action? Of course it is ... but we’ve seen it’s creating division.”

She told the audience: “There are some Conservative MPs (that) are very much against it, why? Because Black Lives Matter stands for things that they don’t stand for. It’s really about defunding the police and the overthrow of capitalism, which is, you know, Black Lives Matter the actual political organisation.”

Asked about his fellow minister’s remarks, Mr Zahawi said: “The symbolism of reminding the world of how painful it is to be subjected to the racism that Marcus Rashford has been subjected to, whether on social media or elsewhere, I absolutely back.

“If you then extrapolate to a Black Lives Matter movement that has a political agenda ... that’s a different place, that’s my point – which is why I think we just have to differentiate and rightly back our team.”

Gareth Southgate takes a knee ahead of kick-off

Mr Johnson had appeared to backed the England squad’s collective decision to take the knee prior earlier this week.

The prime minister’s official spokesman had said he “fully respects” their right to “make their feelings known” and added: “He respects the right of those who want to peacefully protest in this way.”

Former Labour prime minister Gordon Brown said it was time for Mr Johnson to offer public, unequivocal backing for the England players’ protest.

When asked by the BBC if he believed Downing Street was trying to avoid a confrontation with those who oppose the move, Mr Brown said he did not believe the PM was responsible for his spokesman’s statement.

“I would like Boris Johnson to come out publicly and support the England football team and what they do, so I’m not going to say he was behind that statement that was made by Downing Street,” he said.

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