Prime Minister Boris Johnson has defended Home Secretary Priti Patel after she was called out by England defender Tyrone Mings on Twitter earlier this week.
Mings was left angry with perceived hypocrisy from Patel in the wake of his international teammates Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka receiving racist abuse after the Three Lions’ Euro 2020 final penalty shoot-out defeat to Italy.
Politicians have had a rocky relationship with footballers over the past few years in this country, and this appears to be another case of tensions bubbling to the surface.
So how has this latest saga developed?
What did Patel initially say?
Patel, who is of Indian heritage, initially hit the headlines when she described the decision of the England players to take the knee before games at the Euros as “gesture politics.”
Speaking to GB News last month, the 49-year-old said: “I just don’t support people participating in that type of gesture politics .”
She added that it was “all well to support a cause and make your voices heard”, but with regards to the BLM protests that have taken place in the UK, “the impact on policing was devastating”.
And she also refused to condemn fans booing the taking of the knee, adding: “That’s a choice for them quite frankly. I’ve not gone to a football match to even contemplate that.”
Mings himself insisted that Patel’s comments did not impact him and his teammates, saying: “To the Home Secretary, I don’t really have a direct message. Everybody is entitled to their own opinion and the Home Secretary is one of many, many people that oppose us taking the knee or refuse to defend it.
“So, we have our own set of beliefs and what we think we can do to help and there will be players that can be influential and can stand up for what we believe in. Understandably, when you have such strong beliefs there will be opposition to that.”
What did she say after the final?
Mings was less impressed, however, with Patel’s response after Rashford, Sancho and Saka were sent hundreds of abusive racist messages after missing penalties in England’s defeat on Sunday.
She tweeted on Monday morning: “I am disgusted that @England players who have given so much for our country this summer have been subject to vile racist abuse on social media.
“It has no place in our country and I back the police to hold those responsible accountable.”
It did not take long for Mings to reply, as he shot back later that afternoon: “You don’t get to stoke the fire at the beginning of the tournament by labelling our anti-racism message as ‘Gesture Politics’ & then pretend to be disgusted when the very thing we’re campaigning against, happens.”
What is Johnson’s response?
Johnson was asked about the exchange between Mings and Patel by Leader of the Opposition Keir Starmer at Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday.
And while he offered his support to the England players affected by the abuse, he also threw his weight behind Patel.
“I want to reiterate my total support of our fantastic England team, and I support them in the way that they show solidarity with their friends when they face racism,” said Johnson.
“But when he (Starmer) talks about the Home Secretary, let me just remind him that my right honourable friend has faced racism and prejudice all her career, of the kind he can never imagine.”
Johnson’s response is not likely to have impressed England’s players.
And with plans for the squad to visit Downing Street reportedly shelved, there appears to be something of a relationship breakdown between parliament and footballers.
It is likely that Premier League players will continue to take the knee into the new season, which kicks off next month.
And how the government will respond to it seems to be anyone’s guess.
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