Wednesday, 4 Aug 2021

Euro 2020: Criticism of Priti Patel over taking the knee remarks ‘unusual’ and ‘odd’, says cabinet minister Grant Shapps

Criticism of Home Secretary Priti Patel over efforts to fight racism are “unusual” and “odd”, one of her fellow cabinet ministers has told Sky News.

Following England’s Euro 2020 final defeat to Italy – after which some of the side’s players suffered racist abuse on social media – Ms Patel‘s pre-tournament comments on footballers taking the knee before games has come under scrutiny.

The home secretary previously described taking the knee as “gesture politics” and said England fans had a “choice” over whether or not to boo players as they made their anti-racism protest.

Ms Patel condemned the racist abuse directed towards England footballers after their loss to Italy on penalties on Sunday night.

But England defender Tyrone Mings subsequently accused her of having “stoked the fire” ahead of Euro 2020 with her comments on players taking the knee.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps on Wednesday became the latest government minister to defend Ms Patel amid the row.

“I thought the comments about Priti Patel were unusual, were odd because she has spoken very movingly in the House of Commons about her own experiences and suffering from racism,” he told Sky News.

Prominent Conservative backbench MP Steve Baker has called on his party to change their attitude towards people who take the knee as an anti-racism protest.

Mr Shapps said his view on the issue was “very simple”, adding: “I just think we need to respect everybody and in whatever form they want to show they are against racism is fine with me.

“It’s a shame, because this has detracted from a phenomenal performance by the England team who really got together and did England proud.

“And that’s where I prefer to leave it. I think we should work, all of us in society, and start by accepting that nobody wants to see racism.

“If you accept everybody is coming from the right approach and attitude in this then we’ll get a lot further as a country in actually kicking out racism.”

Another Conservative MP, Andrew Rosindell, has called on Mings and other England players to “focus on football, not politics” after the end of Euro 2020.

But Mr Shapps said that footballers – such as Mings – were “welcome to” comment on political matters.

“The great thing about living in a democracy is everybody is welcome to pitch in on this – I suppose a bit like everybody became armchair experts about what Gareth Southgate should do with his team over the match,” he said.

“I think everybody can comment on politics – that’s the whole spirit of democracy isn’t it? That’s the whole point in it.

“We are absolutely united as a government, and I hope as a country as well, at booting out racism.”

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