Boris Johnson finally tells England fans to ‘cheer, not boo’ players taking the knee

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Boris Johnson has finally told England fans to “cheer not boo” players taking the knee – after days of skirting round the issue.

The Prime Minister’s spokesman had previously failed to condemn a minority of fans who booed players ahead of Euro 2020.

But today, in a not-so-hasty about turn, a No10 spokesman told fans to “cheer not boo” as the tournament kicks off tonight.

The move – hours after a national newspaper made the same call on its front page – is a victory for racial justice campaigners and Gordon Brown.

Ex-PM Mr Brown had said: “I do think it would be very bad for Britain if these culture wars started to develop, where people seized on one instance of someone doing something and tried to make it a big issue that divided the public rather than united the public.”

It also leaves embarrassed Tory Education Minister Gillian Keegan, who last night claimed taking a knee was “divisive”.

The Prime Minister’s spokesman had previously failed to condemn a minority of fans who booed players
(Image: Getty Images)

Asked if Boris Johnson supports England players taking the knee, a No10 spokesman replied: “Yes. The Prime Minister respects the rights of all people to peacefully protest and make their feelings known about injustices.”

Asked if he would condemn those booing players, he replied: “I think the Prime Minister has spoken before about his desire for everybody to get behind the national team.

“And the Prime Minister would like to see everybody get behind the team to cheer them on, not boo.”

Asked if the PM agrees with Gillian Keegan that taking the knee is “divisive”, a No10 spokesman said: “The Prime Minister respects the rights of all people to peacefully protest and to make their feelings known about injustices.”

Euro 2020 gets underway this evening as Turkey take on Italy at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome.

It marks the beginning of a month-long festival of international football.

England are bidding to pick up their first piece of major silverware since winning the World Cup on home soil in 1966.

Wales and Scotland have also made it into the tournament, with Scotland’s opening game against the Czech Republic on Monday marking the first time the men’s team have made it to a major tournament for 23 years.

Backing his players taking the knee in an open letter to England fans in The Players’ Tribune, England manager Gareth Southgate said he has “a responsibility to the wider community to use my voice, and so do the players”.

He added: “It’s their duty to continue to interact with the public on matters such as equality, inclusivity and racial injustice, while using the power of their voices to help put debates on the table, raise awareness and educate.”

Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi today said he wanted to separate the symbol from the Black Lives Matter movement.

He said: “The symbolism of reminding the world of how painful it is to be subjected to the racism Marcus Rashford has been subjected to… I absolutely back.

“If you then extrapolate to a Black Lives Matter movement that has a political agenda, that’s a different place.”

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Bourbiza Mohamed. Writer and Political Discourse Analysis.

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