‘We have our heads in the sand if we believe the kind of thing the prime minister has said has not empowered people across the country to come out with similar things,’ says journalist Darren Lewis
Discussing the racist abuse faced by three England footballers following the team’s Euro 2020 defeat, the subject of Mr Johnson’s previous comments comparing Muslim women wearing burqas to “letter boxes” were raised on the programme.
Defending the prime minister, journalist Andrew Pierce admitted the “language is wrong” but repeatedly insisted “he’s not racist”.
“I’d say he’s probably the least likely person to be a Tory leader to be racist,” he said.
But Darren Lewis, a Daily Mirror assistant editor and sports journalist, said people in other professions would have lost their job if they had been caught using similar language.
He told the ITV show: “As a Black person and the Black people watching your show when they hear the prime minister using the kind of racially offensive language towards Muslim women that he was given the chance to apologise for a couple of years ago and chose not to do it I find it hard to believe that certain label can’t be attached to him.”
Mr Lewis added: “When you look at the stuff he’s said before in the past… if you’re an employee somewhere and you come up with that kind of thing you’re reprimanded and maybe even sacked.
“If you work in a school, if you work in football, I work in football I’ve heard the kind of thing people have said, very similar to what we’ve heard from the prime minister, and people have been sacked for that.
“We have our heads in the sand if we believe the kind of thing the prime minister has said – and people defend – has not empowered people across the country to come out with similar things.”
The newspaper’s associate editor Kevin Maguire also waded into the argument, saying: “We’ve got a prime minister with a history of racism; let’s not ignore it, let’s not cover it up, let’s not apologise for him.”
Mr Johnson has repeatedly refused to apologise for comments made in his newspaper articles, including when he was branded a “racist” in the Commons by the leader of the SNP in 2019.
One article described African people as having “watermelon smiles”, another said women in burqas looked like “bank robbers”, and Mr Johnson also wrote that seeing “a bunch of black kids” scared him.
Footballers Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka, who missed penalties in England’s defeat to Italy on Sunday, received racist abuse on social media in the hours after the game.
Home secretary Priti Patel was accused by England defender Tyrone Mings of “stoking the fire” of racism by dismissing the team’s anti-racism protest as “gesture politics” last month and suggesting fans had a right to book the players.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer also accused the prime minister of failing to show leadership by being reluctant to criticise booing fans.
Mr Johnson said those responsible for the abuse “should be ashamed of themselves”, but Sir Keir said those words would “ring hollow” due to his past actions.