Football banning orders are to be changed to cover online racism so that people found guilty of online abuse could also be kept away from matches, Boris Johnson has said.
It came as Labour leader Keir Starmer said Johnson tried to “stoke a culture war” by refusing to condemn fans who booed the England team taking a knee but has now found himself on the wrong side, suggesting the prime minister had treated racism as “a game”.
In response, Johnson sought to claim that he had never condoned the fans’ booing, and said the rules for football banning orders would be changed.
Devoting almost all his allotted time at prime minister’s questions to the issue, the Labour leader dismissed Johnson’s claims to have never defended the booing, saying: “The prime minister isn’t kidding anybody in this house. He’s not kidding the public, and he’s not even kidding his own MPs.”
The exchanges follow disagreements within Tory ranks over how to respond to England players taking the knee before games as an anti-racism gesture, with some MPs and ministers condemning it as politicised and others disagreeing.
After three black England players who missed penalties in the final against Italy were subjected to online racist abuse, another squad member, Tyrone Mings said messages from some politicians had helped “stoke the fire” of racism.
Referring to a quote before Euro 2020 by Priti Patel, the home secretary, Starmer asked: “Does the prime minister think that is was wrong to criticise the England team’s decision to oppose racism by taking the knee as ‘gesture politics’?”
Johnson replied by announcing the change to the banning orders, but avoided the question, simply saying the England team “do represent the very best of our country, and I repeat that I utterly condemn and abhor the racist outpourings that we saw on Sunday night”.
Starmer then cited Patel, and Johnson’s spokesperson, who before the tournament defended the right of some fans to boo players if they took the knee.
“When senior government ministers and Conservative MPs defend the booing of an anti-racist message, who do they think they are defending, prime minister, and why are they defending it?” the Labour leader asked.
Johnson replied: “I have made it absolutely clear that no one should boo the England team.”
The prime minister was seeking to re-write history, Starmer said: “Behind them they don’t believe you, and neither do we. We can all see what’s happened here. The government has been trying to stoke a culture war, and they’ve realised they are on the wrong side, now they hope that nobody has noticed.”
After Johnson replied to say: “I don’t want to engage in a political culture war of any kind,” Starmer again condemned this as fantasy.
“Football’s a game, racism isn’t,” he said. “Far from giving racism the red card, the prime minister gave it the green light.”
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