Prime Minister Boris Johnson with Home Secretary Priti Patel (Image: Julian Hamilton/Daily Mirror)
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Boris Johnson and other top Tories were branded "total hypocrites" and "arsonists complaining about a fire" after England players were bombarded with a torrent of racist abuse in the wake of England's defeat.
Labour's Angela Rayner and Conservative peer Sayeeda Warsi hit out at the Prime Minister and Home Secretary Priti Patel, accusing ministers of stoking divisive culture wars over Gareth Southgate's players taking the knee to protest racial injustice.
The PM refused to condemn those who booed the gesture and Ms Patel defended those who booed, saying they had a right to express themselves over what she called "gesture politics".
After the nation's heartbreaking defeat to Italy at Wembley on Sunday, however, penalty-takers Bukayo Saka, Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho were targeted with racist bile online.
Ms Patel took to Twitter to say she was "disgusted that England players who have given so much for our country this summer have been subject to vile racist abuse on social media".
Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner hit back, saying: "Let me be clear. The Prime Minister and the Home Secretary gave license to the racists who booed the England players and are now racially abusing England players.
Bukayo Saka, Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho
"Boris Johnson and Priti Patel are like arsonists complaining about a fire they poured petrol on. Total hypocrites."
Baroness Warsi also tweeted in response to Ms Patel: "Priti -we as govt, as Conservatives need to think about our role in feeding this culture in our country If we 'whistle' & the 'dog' reacts we cant be shocked if it barks and bites.
"It’s time to stop the culture wars that are feeding division. Dog whistles win votes but destroy nations.
"As a proud centre right politician, as a proud part of a diverse vibrant nation that produced a football team that spoke to and represented England in all its modern diverse glory -it shames me that in 2021 some in politics are still playing fast & loose with issues of race."
(Image: @pritipatel /Twitter)
Football legend Gary Neville was also among those who accused Mr Johnson's administration of a failure of leadership over the players' stance against racism, saying signals should "come from the top".
He hit out at the Prime Minister's previous racism, including when, in article before he was PM, Mr Johnson compared Muslim women to "letterboxes".
"I'm just reading the breaking news, it says the PM condemns racist abuse of England players. Southgate and the players a few weeks ago, five days on the trot, told us they were taking the knee to promote equality and it was against racism," Mr Neville told Sky News.
"The Prime Minister said it was ok for the population of this country to boo those players who were promoting equality and fighting against racism."
He added: "It’s appalling. It’s absolutely appalling and it has to be called out in the strongest possible terms and condemned.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the Euro 2020 final at Wembley
(Image: Getty Images)
“This is about leadership, and I’m afraid the Prime Minister has failed the test of leadership because whatever he says today about racism he had a simple choice at the beginning of this tournament in relation to the booing of those who were taking the knee.
“The Prime Minister failed to call that out and the actions and inactions of leaders have consequences, so I’m afraid the Prime Minister’s words today ring hollow.”
Shadow culture secretary Jo Stevens said if she was the prime minister or the home secretary she would be “embarrassed” and “probably ashamed” at the words they used and their conduct at the start of the Euro 2020 tournament surrounding players taking the knee.
When asked if she believed the Prime Minister was responsible for the action undertaken by some England fans on Sunday night, she told the BBC’s World at One programme: “I think that his words and his lack of action send a message to people who feel it’s okay to be racist.
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“You can argue about whether there’s a direct causal link between the two but all of us in what we do, what we say, what we don’t do, there are consequences to that, particularly if you’re the prime minister and you’re in a position of such responsibility and leadership in the country.”
Downing Street rejected Gary Neville’s accusation that Boris Johnson promoted racism, however.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “I would utterly reject that claim. The Prime Minister set out this morning his response to some of the awful comments that we’ve seen.”
Asked about the former England footballer’s allegation that Mr Johnson and other ministers suggested it was fine to boo players taking the knee, the spokesman said claimed it was "not accurate".
The spokesman said: “The Prime Minister was clear that he wanted to see everyone getting behind the team to cheer them on. He made that clear on the 11th, before England’s first game.”