Senior Tory backbench MPs have called for a change of attitude from their party over taking the knee in the wake of a racism row with English footballers.
Former Brexit minister Steve Baker said the fallout from racist abuse received by three black English players should be a “wake-up call” to the Tory party over how it is seen by the country.
Boris Johnson was also challenged today in Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) over not initially supporting England players taking the knee during the Euro 2020 football tournament.
Marcus Rashford, Bukayo Saka and Jadon Sancho were all racially abused after they missed during the penalty shootout in England’s loss to Italy in the Euro final at Wembley.
Two Tory MPs have complained about Rashford’s campaigning on child food poverty, suggesting he should stick to football instead of politics.
Meanwhile, English defender Tyrone Mings also called out home secretary Priti Patel for saying last month that the team’s decision to take the knee before games was “gesture politics” and that fans had a right to boo.
Mings said she had “stoked” some of the racism experienced after the final.
The growing row is being seen by some MPs as potentially damaging to the Conservative party, after the England players were seen to unite the country during their journey to the Euro 2020 final.
“It is a wake-up call to the Conservative Party of just how powerful our words are when we navigate these issues,” Baker told the BBC today.
“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’.
“What I am saying to my colleagues is that we have to confront the reality of how we are sometimes heard, even by people on our own side.”
Former veterans minister Johnny Mercer has also called for a re-think from his party, yesterday saying that Mings is “completely right”.
“Very uncomfortable with the position we Conservatives are needlessly forcing ourselves into,” he said.
“Do I fight it or stay silent? Modern conservatism was always so much more to me. We must not lose our way.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer asked Johnson on multiple occasions during PMQs if he regretted letting his Number 10 spokesman say that people could boo England players taking the knee if they wanted to.
The Prime Minister refused to answer the question on multiple occasions, before saying that “no one should boo the England team”.
“What we’re doing now is following the racist abuse our players sadly suffered, we’re taking practical action,” he said.