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.”
In England’s warm-up matches for Euro 2020, some fans booed players as they took the knee before kick-off, while others have criticised the protest due to its link to the Black Lives Matter movement.
London mayor Sadiq Khan said that fans booing players while they took the knee led to “questions about some of their motives”.
And he dismissed concerns some have about the England players’ protest being related to specific elements of the Black Lives Matter campaign in the US.
“One of the reasons why the likes of Harry Maguire, Harry Kane and others supported their colleagues when it came to taking the knee was to show solidarity in their fight against racism,” he told Sky News.
“And I think when people boo that, boo their own team, it begs the question about some of their motives.
“To not condemn booing of our players taking the knee, to not condemn that I think doesn’t bode well.
“But also, you know what, Harry Kane’s not a Marxist, Harry Maguire doesn’t want to defund the police – these are colleagues showing solidarity to their black mates in the squad.”
Labour are attempting on Wednesday to get Ms Patel to answer an urgent question in the House of Commons on the racist abuse faced by England players Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka.