The England footballer Tyrone Mings has criticised the home secretary, Priti Patel, in her condemnation of the racist abuse faced by his teammates, after she called players taking the knee “gesture politics”.
A number of politicians have tweeted support for England players Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka, who faced a torrent of racism on social media after England’s defeat in the Euro 2020 final.
Mings said Patel had “stoke(d) the fire” after she previously refused to criticise fans who booed the team for taking the knee in protest against racial injustice.
He said: “You don’t get to stoke the fire at 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.”
Mings’ condemnation of Patel was backed by the former Conservative minister Johnny Mercer, who tweeted: “The painful truth is that this guy is completely right. Very uncomfortable with the position we Conservatives are needlessly forcing ourselves into. Do I fight it or stay silent? Modern Conservatism was always so much more to me. We must not lose our way.”
Asked on Tuesday if Patel had “stoked the fires of racism” against England’s footballers, the chief secretary to the Treasury, Steve Barclay, refused three times to answer on LBC. He claimed Patel had been on the receiving end of “the most appalling racism” and said she was “taking action against extremist groups”.
“What we have seen in the racist abuse of our footballers is completely unacceptable … I think what unites us is that we condemn it and the home secretary is taking action,” he said.
Patel had tweeted that racist abuse was “vile” and added: “It has no place in our country and I back the police to hold those responsible accountable.”
When she was asked earlier about taking the knee, the home secretary told GB News: “I just don’t support people participating in that type of gesture politics, to a certain extent, as well.”
On whether England fans were right to boo the national team, she said: “That’s a choice for them, quite frankly.”
The former Tory party chairwoman Lady Warsi also criticised Patel after her tweet.
“It’s time to stop the culture wars that are feeding division,” the Conservative peer tweeted. “Dog whistles win votes but destroy nations.”
The former footballer Marvin Sordell, who said racism was a “big factor” in his retirement from the sport, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “[Mings] has every right to be angry, just as I am, just as I’m sure millions of people are across this country as well.
“Because there was a massive opportunity to show strong leadership at that point. And I think it was very clear at that point, it was very clear before that, that players taking the knee wasn’t anything more than them trying to raise awareness for a topic that has again come up.”
The former England defender Gary Neville joined those questioning Boris Johnson’s authority on the subject of racism, telling Sky News: “The prime minister said it was OK for the population of this country to boo those players [taking the knee] who were trying to promote equality and defend against racism. It starts at the very top. I wasn’t surprised in the slightest that I woke up to those headlines; I expected it the minute the three players missed.”
Another Tory MP also had to apologise for suggesting Rashford should have concentrated on football rather than “playing politics” in an apparent reference to his campaign for free school meals.
Natalie Elphicke, the Tory MP for Dover and Deal, made the comment in a WhatsApp message to fellow MPs, suggesting Rashford should not have spent time on his successful campaign to feed low-income pupils in the school holidays.
Elphicke released an apology shortly afterwards, saying: “I regret messaging privately a rash reaction about Marcus Rashford’s missed penalty and apologise to him for any suggestion that he is not fully focused on his football.”