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 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.”
The symbol of anti-racism solidarity gained attention in American football in 2016 as they protested against police brutality and racism in the US.
The act has since spread further and was adopted by football players in the UK partly to demonstrate that racism should not be tolerated in the sport.
But there have been incidents of a minority in the crowd booing players as they take the knee before games, including before England’s friendly matches against Austria and Romania last week.
A minority of England fans once again defied calls not to jeer the players as they took the knee before kick-off in the Euro 2020 clash with Croatia on Sunday.
Requests not to boo fell on some deaf ears, with an audible round of jeers from some of the expected 22,500 crowds at Wembley, although cheers from the vast majority soon drowned them out.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said taking the knee before football games is “a choice for each team” as he refused to condemn Scotland for deciding not to perform the gesture, apart from when they play against England.
But he added: “I profoundly don’t think you should boo your own team before kick-off.”
The Labour leader, who describes himself as a “massive football fan”, said: “For the first time for the young players, you don’t boo them before you’ve even kicked off.”