Starmer accuses Johnson of ‘worst kind of gesture politics’

Boris Johnson was rubbished by Sir Keir Starmer for denying he wants to be involved in a culture war.

Labour leader Sir Keir repeatedly criticised the Prime Minister for not initially condemning the booing of England players for taking the knee.

He added that Mr Johnson’s actions had not shown racism the red card but given it the “green light”, before claiming the Prime Minister had been indulging in the “worst kind of gesture politics” by wearing an England shirt.

Sir Keir Starmer
Sir Keir Starmer accused the Government of trying to stoke ‘a culture war’ (House of Commons/PA)

Mr Johnson had told MPs “nobody defends booing the England side” and he sought to show the Government was acting in response to racist abuse suffered by England players following their Euro 2020 final defeat to Italy.

People found guilty of online racist abuse against footballers will be subjected to football banning orders, while social media firms will face heavy fines if they fail to remove “hate and racism”, Mr Johnson said.

Both leaders opened Prime Minister’s Questions by praising the England side for their achievements and for how they represent the country.

But Sir Keir went on to say: “On June 7 the Prime Minister’s spokesperson said this, ‘On taking the knee specifically, the Prime Minister is more focused on actions rather than gestures’.

“On June 14 the Home Secretary said, ‘I just don’t support people participating in that type of gesture politics’.

“So there’s no point pretending that these things weren’t said.

“The England footballer Tyrone Mings … he said this labelling anti-racism messages as gesture politics served to stoke the fire of racism and hatred – Prime Minister they’re powerful words from someone who has himself been subjected to racist abuse. He’s right, isn’t he?”E

Mr Johnson replied: “I want to reiterate my support, our support, our total support for our fantastic team and I support them in the way that they show solidarity with their friends who face racism.

“The Home Secretary has faced racism and prejudice all her career of a kind that he can never imagine, and she has taken practical steps to get black and minority officers into the police in record numbers.”

Sir Keir questioned if Mr Johnson regretted failing to condemn those people who booed England players “for standing up to racism”, with Mr Johnson replying: “We made it absolutely clear that no-one should boo the England team.”

Sir Keir later claimed: “We could all see what’s happened here – the Government has been trying to stoke a culture war and they’ve realised they’re on the wrong side, and now they’re hoping nobody has noticed.

“Why else would a Conservative MP boast that he’s not watching his own team?

“Why else would another Conservative MP say that Marcus Rashford spends too much time playing politics when he’s actually trying to feed children that the Government won’t?

“And why will the Prime Minister refuse time and time again, even now, to condemn those who boo our players for standing up against racism?

Footballer Tyrone Mings
England footballer Tyrone Mings hit out at Home Secretary Priti Patel (Carl Recine/PA)

“What is it that this England team symbolises that this Conservative Party is so afraid of?”

Mr Johnson countered by saying the Government “sticks up” for the player and is taking practical steps to fight racism.

He added: “I don’t want to engage in a political culture war of any kind, I want to get on with delivering for the people of this country.

“He simply wants to get on with dithering.”

Sir Keir replied: “He doesn’t want to engage in a culture war and point-scoring? Give me a break.

“Football’s a game, racism isn’t, Prime Minister. That’s why many of us have been involved in the charity Show Racism the Red Card for years. But far from giving racism the red card, the Prime Minister gave it the green light.

“And I’ll tell you the worst kind of gesture politics – putting on an England shirt over a shirt and tie whilst not condemning those booing is the worst kind of gesture.”