Gordon Brown calls on Boris Johnson to back England players ‘taking the knee’ at Euro 2020

Boris Johnson today insisted he supports ‘peaceful protest’ and urged England fans not to boo footballers for ‘taking the knee’ – despite one of his own ministers warning the gesture is ‘creating new divisions’.

In a shift from last week when Downing Street dodged over whether it disapproved of the booing, the PM came off the fence to urge respect for players who want to do the act, linked to the Black Lives Matter movement, before kick-off. 

Asked to give a categorical answer on whether Mr Johnson supported the England team’s stance this afternoon, the premier’s official spokesman said: ‘Yes. The Prime Minister respects the rights of all people to peacefully protest and make their feeling known about injustices.’

The spokesman added: ‘I think the Prime Minister has spoken before about his desire for everybody to get behind the national team and as I said, the PM would like to see everyone getting behind the team to cheer them on, not boo.’

The Scotland team has opted not to take the knee before Euro matches, but former PM Gordon Brown today urged Mr Johnson to support the England players’ decision.   

Earlier, vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi insisted fans should ‘back the team’ and hailed the way managed Gareth Southgate had defended the decision to keep taking the knee.

He said he supported the ‘symbolism of reminding the world of how painful it is to be subjected to the racism’.  

However, the government’s message was muddied as Ms Keegan separately branded the gesture ‘symbolism more than action’, adding: ‘We’ve seen it’s creating division.’      

The anti-racism gesture originated among US football players in 2016, in protest against police brutality and racism in the country, and has since been adopted around the world.

Football players use it to reinforce the message that racism will not be tolerated in the sport.  

Nadhim Zahawi

Gillian Keegan

Gillian Keegan

Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi (left) insisted football fans should ‘back the team’ and hailed the way managed Gareth Southgate had defended the decision to stick with the act before kick-off. But Gillian Keegan (right) branded the Black Lives Matter gesture ‘symbolism more than action’, adding: ‘We’ve seen it’s creating division.’

England's Jack Grealish and Kalvin Phillips take a knee before the international friendly match at Riverside Stadium, Middlesbrough on June 7

England's Jack Grealish and Kalvin Phillips take a knee before the international friendly match at Riverside Stadium, Middlesbrough on June 7

England’s Jack Grealish and Kalvin Phillips take a knee before the international friendly match at Riverside Stadium, Middlesbrough on June 7

Former prime minister Gordon Brown (pictured) has called on Boris Johnson to back England players’ decision to ‘take the knee’ at Euro 2020

In a round of interviews this morning, Mr Zahawi said it was ‘only right that we back our team’ when asked if the PM supported the England squad’s decision to take the knee.

‘The elegant way, quite passionate way, that the England manager Gareth Southgate put this is exactly where the Prime Minister is, where this Government is,’ Mr Zahawi told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

‘I think he articulated the emotions of young men beautifully and I think it’s only right that we back our team.’ 

Asked about Ms Keegan’s words, Mr Zahawi said: ‘The symbolism of reminding the world of how painful it is to be subjected to the racism that Marcus Rashford has been subjected to, whether on social media or elsewhere, I absolutely back.

‘If you then extrapolate to a Black Lives Matter movement that has a political agenda…that’s a different place, that’s my point, which is why I think we just have to differentiate and rightly back our team.’ 

Ms Keegan claimed taking the knee was ‘creating new divisions’ in sport as she appeared on the BBC’s Question Time last night.

She said: ‘What’s happening here is this in itself is actually being more divisive, it’s creating new divisions’.

Ms Keegan said ‘people have to make their own decisions’ when deciding whether to take the knee or not.

Speaking to the BBC’s Nick Robinson, Mr Brown said the players were trying to bring the whole country together.  

Mr Brown said: ‘I think it is very important we support the footballers who have made this difficult decision actually because they’ve had to agree among themselves what to do.’ 

He continued: ‘I don’t think it was right for Downing Street not to support Marcus Rashford, I think Marcus Rashford has stood out for some really good causes over the last year but he’s also standing up for far better race relations (and) community relations in this country.’

Mr Brown added: ‘I think we should support the team when it does this and I hope the crowds who are at the football matches will actually acknowledge that the footballers are doing something very, very important – they are bringing the whole country together.’

Players were met with boos by some fans when taking the knee at the Riverside Stadium in Middlesbrough prior to the friendly matches against Austria and Romania last week.

When asked if he believed Downing Street was trying to avoid a confrontation with those who oppose the move, Mr Brown said he did not believe the PM was responsible for the statement.

‘I would like Boris Johnson to come out publicly and support the England football team and what they do, so I’m not going to say he was behind that statement that was made by Downing Street,’ he said.

‘But I do think it would be very bad for Britain if these culture wars started to develop where someone seized on one instance of someone doing something and tried to make it a big issue that divided the public rather than united the public.’

He continued: ‘There are too many instances where people choose not really such important gestures and decide to make an issue of them as if they are to define the whole country.

‘I think we should stop fighting these culture wars.’ 

The Scotland team will not be taking the knee before their matches at Euro 2020 this summer

The Scotland team will not be taking the knee before their matches at Euro 2020 this summer

The Scotland team will not be taking the knee before their matches at Euro 2020 this summer

Last night Ms Keegan defended fans who jeer from the terraces, saying: ‘And by the way, the people who are booing, I’m pretty sure most of them would like to end racism as well.

‘They disagree. There’s a lot of things that have been, you know, there’s different things that people are interpreting.’

Ms Keegan added that many Conservative MPs were opposed to players taking the knee because they do not agree with some of the goals of the Black Lives Matter movement.

During the group stage clash with England, Scotland will remain standing prior to kick-off. Pictured, both teams took a knee before a match between England and Romania on June 6

During the group stage clash with England, Scotland will remain standing prior to kick-off. Pictured, both teams took a knee before a match between England and Romania on June 6

During the group stage clash with England, Scotland will remain standing prior to kick-off. Pictured, both teams took a knee before a match between England and Romania on June 6

‘Black Lives Matter stands for things that they don’t stand for. It’s really about defunding the police and the overthrow of capitalism, which is, you know, Black Lives Matter the actual political organisation,’ she said. 

England boss Gareth Southgate has said the players will continue to make the gesture in future matches. 

Critics of taking the knee say the gesture has political overtones but anti-discrimination group Kick It Out, the Football Supporters’ Association and England fans group Block 109 have called on fans to show their support to the team.

Kick It Out chief executive Tony Burnett said: ‘Gareth Southgate and the England players have made their position really clear – they are taking the knee as an anti-discrimination gesture, it is in no way linked to any political organisation.’

Meanwhile, Scotland have confirmed they will not take the knee at Euro 2020 and will instead continue to take a stand against racism.

Steve Clarke held a meeting with his men in which it was decided that taking the knee has become 'diluted'

Steve Clarke held a meeting with his men in which it was decided that taking the knee has become 'diluted'

Steve Clarke held a meeting with his men in which it was decided that taking the knee has become ‘diluted’

There had been talk of Steve Clarke’s squad joining England in a show of solidarity by taking the knee ahead of next Friday’s game at Wembley.

England’s players were booed by sections of their own fans when doing so before their recent warm-up matches in Middlesbrough.

In light of that, Clarke said he would speak to his players this week before deciding if they would reverse a decision taken in March to no longer take the knee. They felt then that the symbol had become diluted. 

But the SFA have now revealed that their stance has not changed.

A statement read: ‘The Scotland Men’s National Team will continue to take a stand against racism prior to kick-off for all UEFA EURO 2020 matches.

‘The squad, coaching staff and backroom members will stand up to racism ahead of the Group D matches against Czech Republic, England and Croatia.’

Captain Andy Robertson added: ‘It is important we continue to tackle the issue of racism and raise awareness of the need to change people’s mindsets but also their behaviours.

‘Prior to our World Cup qualifiers in March we spoke as a group and felt that taking a stand was the best way for us to show solidarity and also to reinforce the need for meaningful change in society.’

Southampton striker Che Adams, who recently switched his international allegiance, is the only BAME member of the Scotland squad for Euro 2020. 

Speaking in March, Clarke said: ‘Recent events and past events show that you have to keep changing people’s mindsets about racism.

‘I think the knee when it was first proposed and first taken was a really powerful symbol. It’s maybe now become a little diluted.

On Thursday evening, education minister Gillian Keegan (pictured) claimed taking the knee was 'creating new divisions' in sport

On Thursday evening, education minister Gillian Keegan (pictured) claimed taking the knee was 'creating new divisions' in sport

On Thursday evening, education minister Gillian Keegan (pictured) claimed taking the knee was ‘creating new divisions’ in sport

‘There’s been some high-profile cases recently, which show racism and the abuse is still there. It’s not acceptable to anybody.

‘And maybe just taking a stand as opposed to the knee will just waken everybody up to the fact that if we go to sleep it will never go away.

‘We have to keep confronting it, pushing forward and making sure that in years to come racism of any form is not acceptable.’

‘There’s been some high-profile cases recently, which show racism and the abuse is still there. It’s not acceptable to anybody.

‘And maybe just taking a stand as opposed to the knee will just waken everybody up to the fact that if we go to sleep it will never go away.

‘We have to keep confronting it, pushing forward and making sure that in years to come racism of any form is not acceptable.’  

EACH COUNTRY’S STANCE TO THE KNEE AHEAD OF EURO 2020 

GROUP A 

Turkey – No confirmation, but did not take the knee in recent games

Italy – No confirmation, but did not take against Czech Republic

Wales – Will take the knee

Switzerland – No confirmation, but did not take knee in recent games

GROUP B 

Denmark – Will take the knee

Finland – Will take the knee

Belgium – Will take the knee

Russia – Will not take the knee

GROUP C 

Netherlands – No confirmation, but players have been vocal in their BLM support

Ukraine – No confirmation, but no evidence to suggest they will

Austria – Will take the knee after joining England in act of solidarity during friendly

North Macedonia – No confirmation, but did not take the knee against Kazakhstan

GROUP D 

England – Will take the knee

Scotland – Will not be taking the knee after players and staff held discussions and deemed the gesture to have become ‘diluted.’

Croatia – Players given the choice; did not take the knee in most recent friendly game

Czech Republic – Will not take the knee 

GROUP E 

Spain – No confirmation, have avoided gesture in recent friendlies

Sweden – No confirmation, have avoided gesture in recent friendlies

Poland – Will not take the knee

Slovakia – Will not take the knee

GROUP F 

Hungary – Will not take the knee, as was the case against Republic of Ireland

Portugal – No confirmation, but did take knee in recent Spain friendly

France – No confirmation, but star players are in favour of taking the knee

Germany – No confirmation, but did not take the knee in recent friendlies

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