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Boris Johnson Rejects Claims He "Stoked Divisions" By Not Condemning Those Who Booed England Players

Boris Johnson Rejects Claims He 'Stoked Divisions' By Not Condemning Those Who Booed England Players

Boris Johnson made the comments during a speech at the UK Battery Industrialisation Centre in Coventry (Alamy)

3 min read

Boris Johnson has again denied suggestions that his government has “stoked divisions” over football players taking the knee, claiming that he has “always said it was wrong” to boo the players.

Speaking at an event in Coventry, the Prime Minister was asked by Sky News' Beth Rigby whether his past “divisive politics” and controversial past comments in newspaper columns undermined his promise to be a “unifying” figure.

But Johnson said he rejected the assertion, insisting that he believed “racism has no place in our society”.

“I think that the England team represented the very best of us and our country and I think that the overwhelming support, the outpouring of love for the England team after the match on Sunday showed this country at its best and at its most united,” he said. 

“I think what we all want to do is take practical steps to prevent racism in all its forms and I think the football batting order regime changes that.”

The Prime Minister and members of his Cabinet have faced criticism over past comments where they refused to condemn those who booed the England team for taking the knee.

Home secretary Priti Patel described the protest as “gesture politics” in May, while Johnson’s official spokesperson said he was focused on “action rather than gestures” when quizzed on his opinion in June. 

Speaking in Coventry on Thursday, however, Johnson claimed: “I always said that it was wrong boo the England players and that is my firm belief.”

“I think that as a society, what we need to do is understand that we've made progress in tackling racism — I would say in my lifetime, a lot of progress.”

“But I think we have to recognise that there's still a long way to go.”

Asked if he would apologise for racist comments in his old newspaper columns he said: "I have absolutely apologised in the past, I continue to apologise for them, and what people really want to see from the government are practical steps to stamp out racism".

Johnson's defence of the government's stance on taking the knee followed a speech on the their much anticipated plans to “level up” the country, in which he pledged to create more devolved mayors for English counties and announced an extra £50 million in funding for community football pitches. 

"After 20 years of trial and error we are starting to see the results of this devolution," he said. 

"The political geography of this country is as rich and diverse as the country itself... but where there are obvious communities of identity and affinity, there is a chance to encourage local leadership."

He also insisted that the government would remain fully behind local leaders.

Johnson hinted that he could reject proposed plans for tax increases on unhealthy foods as part of a new food strategy published today

The strategy’s author, food writer and co-found of Leon restaurants Henry Dimbleby, has suggested a major shake up in eating habits is urgently needed to fix the UK's "malfunctioning" system.

He has proposed a tax on high-sugar and salt food and drink, the money from which would be used to improve the dietary habits of people with weight related disease, including prescribing fruit and veg and providing cookery lessons.

“We believe in tackling obesity, trying to help people to lose weight by promoting exercise and, and tackling junk food advertising,” Johnson said. 

“I'm not, I must say, attracted to the idea of extra taxes on hard working people. Let me just signal that. I will study his report with interest.”

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