Government’s Mixed Messaging Over England Squad’s Kneeling

The government can’t seem to figure out its line on the England squad’s decision to take the knee during the Euros. On the one hand, Number 10 claims that Boris “fully respects” the team’s move (despite previously opposing it), though notably stopping short of criticising fans’ booing. Pro cake, pro-eating it…

Then last night on Question Time, Skills Minister Gillian Keegan lit a fuse under the whole thing by insisting that kneeling was actually ‘divisive‘, and that it’s “symbolism more than action“. Even going so far as to defend the booing fans, claiming “I’m pretty sure most of them would like to end racism as well”…

Clearly on full damage control duty, vaccine chief Nadhim Zahawi then appeared on the Today Programme this morning to insist that the government does support taking the knee, and that Zahawi “absolutely backs” it personally:

“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 […] I think he articulated the emotions of young men beautifully and I think it’s only right that we back our team.”

Guido is told that within government circles there is a debate about the whole culture war approach – touched on this morning by Fraser Nelson in his Telegraph column. Old school Tories find it all a bit infra dig, whereas the 2019 intake Tories are keen for the fight. It looks to Guido like the government would rather just stay away from this whole debate…

UPDATE: PM’s spokesman tells the lobby, “The Prime Minister would like to see everybody get behind the team to cheer them on, not boo.”

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