England footballer claimed home secretary had ‘stoke[d] fire’ of racism
As the home secretary’s comments from earlier in the competition came under intense scrutiny, the transport secretary highlighted that she had spoken “very movingly” in the House of Commons of her own experience of racism.
During the first stages of the contest, Ms Patel declined to condemn the minority of fans who had booed England’s footballer who had taken the knee to express solidarity against racism, suggesting it was a “choice for them”.
The row intensified following the Euros defeat when three players — Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka — were subjected to racial abuse on social media, which the home secretary and No 10 condemned.
England star Tyrone Mings, however, suggested Ms Patel had “stoke[d] the fire” of racism during 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”.
Jonny Mercer, a Conservative MP who recently quit government, backed Mr Mings on social media, saying: “The painful truth is that this guy is completely right”.
But speaking on Sky News, Mr Shapps became the latest senior minister to defend the Ms Patel, saying: “I thought the comments about Priti Patel were unusual or odd because Priti Patel has spoke very movingly in the House of Commons about her own experience of suffering of racism.”
He also insisted the government was “absolutely united” in its opposition to racism, but declined to say whether the Conservative Party needed to urgently challenge its attitude towards racism after former minister Steve Baker urged his colleagues to do so in the wake of the Euro tournament.
“This may be a decisive moment for our party,” Mr Baker said on Tuesday evening. “Much as we can’t be associated with calls to defund the police, we urgently need to challenge our own attitude to people taking the knee.”
Appearing on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, the senior Tory backbencher added it was a “wake-up call” for the Conservative Party “of how powerful our words are when we navigate these issues”, but declined to engage in criticism of Ms Patel.
“It’s one thing to boo the referee with a marginal decision,” he added, “but it’s another to boo brave, black players who are saying no to racism and bravely going out on the field to take a knee and say we are expressing our solidarity with those who are suffering racism”.
Pressed on the comments, Mr Shapps said: “I think it’s really simple: racism is abhorrent, you never want to see it in society, we want to make sure it’s kicked out in all its forms.
“Our England players clearly did a brilliant job and we should always cheer them and I would take issue with anybody who says we shouldn’t do everything possible to get rid of racism, and that’s exactly what’s happened.”
Quizzed again, he added: “I think we should respect everybody and whatever form they want to show that they are against racism it’s fine with me.
“I think actually it’s a shame because it detracts from a phenomenal performance by the England team who got together and did England proud and that’s where I prefer to leave.
“I think we should work together in society and start by accepting that nobody wants to see racism and you accept everybody is coming from the right attitude and approach on this then will get a lot further as a country.”