Boris Johnson is set to meet with social media bosses after England footballers were racially abused following their defeat in the Euro 2020 final – an issue that has seen the prime minister himself accused of “stoking” the actions of a “vocal minority”.
Mr Johnson will discuss the issue of online abuse with internet companies in Downing Street today.
And he is expected to urge them to “up their game” in preventing racist and abusive content being posted on their sites.
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. https://t.co/fdTKHsxTB2
— Tyrone Mings (@OfficialTM_3) July 12, 2021
However, both the prime minister and Home Secretary Priti Patel have been criticised for their past comments since the abuse of England’s players emerged.
After the Three Lions’ penalty shootout heartbreak on Sunday night, those players who missed penalties – Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka – were subjected to racism on social media.
One member of the England squad, defender Tyrone Mings, directly challenged Ms Patel over her pre-tournament suggestion that the players’ decision to take the knee in an anti-racism protest prior to games was “gesture politics”.
And a focus has also fallen on Mr Johnson’s past remarks, including his description of Muslim women as looking like “letter boxes”.
Mr Johnson’s official spokesman said, at a cabinet meeting earlier on Tuesday, that the prime minister had once again repeated his condemnation of the racist abuse aimed at England players.
“He said the abuse was utterly disgraceful and had emerged from the dark spaces of the internet,” the spokesman said.
“He said he would use today’s meeting with social media firms to reiterate the urgent need for action, ahead of tougher laws coming into force through the online harms bill.
“He added there is no question this kind of abuse is extremely upsetting, unfair and needs to be stamped out.”
Pressed on what Mr Johnson would ask social media firms to do, the spokesman added: “I don’t want to preempt what he will say.
“But we think through the scale and prevalence of racist abuse that social media companies need to up their game to prevent online abuse now.”
Asked whether Mr Johnson thought tech companies should hand over the details of people who post racist abuse, the spokesman said Downing Street “expect social media companies to do everything they can to identify these people”.
“The police already have a range of powers to identify and pursue those who use anonymity to spread hatred but we’ve committed to strengthening the criminal law in this area,” they added.
The spokesman also defended Ms Patel, who has been criticised for her pre-tournament assessment that England fans had a “choice” over whether or not to boo players when they took the knee before games.
“The home secretary has been clear, there is no place for racism in our country and that’s why she is backing the police to hold those responsible accountable,” the spokesman said.
“As I set out yesterday, the prime minister called for the nation to get behind and support the players, to cheer and not boo, before England had played a game in the tournament.
“The home secretary is working every day to clamp down on hate crime, racism and violence.
“There’s no place for racism in this country and she’s backing the police to hold those responsible to account.”
Labour’s shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy told Sky News on Tuesday she agreed with Tyrone Mings’s accusation that Ms Patel had “stoked the fire” ahead of Euro 2020.
“The people who are responsible are the people who do it and we shouldn’t let them off the hook,” she said.
“But I do agree with him [Mings] and I agree with Sayeeda Warsi, the former Conservative Party chairman, when she said if you blow the dog whistle, the dogs will bark.
“She said that directly to the home secretary.
“It’s appalling we have a home secretary and a prime minister who try to take their cue straight from the Donald Trump playbook and stir up division and stoke division right when we’re in the middle of a global pandemic.
“We’ve never needed to come together more. We had this amazing moment on Sunday – okay, the result was not exactly what we all wanted to see, but we made the final.
“In the middle of a pandemic, this was a moment that the whole nation should have been lifted and, instead, because of the actions of a vocal minority, stoked by senior politicians, we saw the worst of those values on display.”
In the House of Lords on Tuesday, former government race adviser Lord Woolley told peers that racist abuse of England players was “fuelled in the first place by politicians who… in effect, encouraged fans to boo the national team”.
“The deluge of racist abuse towards black players must not only be condemned and perpertrators brought to justice, but should not be fuelled in the first place by politicians who – if we’re honest – some of them, in effect, encouraged fans to boo the national team,” he said.