A Tory MP has been widely condemned after he said England players should “focus on football” rather than politics.
Andrew Rosindell, the Romford MP, targeted Euro 2020 squad member Tyrone Mings after he accused Priti Patel of “pretending to be disgusted” at racist abuse of his team-mates.
The home secretary condemned the abuse of Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka after they missed in the penalty shoot-out of Sunday’s final versus Italy.
However, Mings called out Patel, pointing to her previous labelling of taking the knee before games as “gesture politics”.
Watch: Tyrone Mings criticises Patel's response over racism abuse
He tweeted: “You don’t get to stoke the fire at the beginning of the tournament by labelling our anti-racism message as ‘gesture politics’ and then pretend to be disgusted when the very thing we’re campaigning against, happens.”
Rosindell subsequently tweeted to Mings: “We are all proud of our England team, who have had the support of the whole country over recent weeks, but please focus of [sic] football, not politics. If you win for England, you win for everyone!”
The remark sparked a huge wave of criticism, including from Gary Lineker (“So politicians can talk about football particularly when they think they might bag a vote or two, but footballers shouldn’t talk about politics”) and Piers Morgan (“You voted against extending free school meals for England’s poorest kids until you were shamed into doing it by a footballer”).
The government, and Conservative Party, has been accused of pursuing “culture war” issues such as the row over England players taking the knee.
As well as Patel’s “gesture politics” comment last month, Boris Johnson initially refused to condemn the booing of players who took the knee.
Backbencher Lee Anderson also announced his refusal to watch any of England's games in the tournament.
However, high-profile figures in the party are beginning to voice concerns at this approach.
Former minister Johnny Mercer, who resigned from the Johnson government in April, said Mings was “completely right” in his criticism of Patel.
“Very uncomfortable with the position we Conservatives are needlessly forcing ourselves into,” Mercer said.
Steve Baker, a senior backbencher, also said the party needs to change its attitude to players and people taking the knee.
“I fear we are in danger of misrepresenting our own heart for those who suffer injustice,” he was reported by The Guardian as saying in a message to the Conservatives Against Racism, For Equality group.
England players took the knee before each game in the Euros as an anti-racism gesture.
Critics have argued this is also showing political support for the Black Lives Matter campaign group, though England manager Gareth Southgate insisted this is not the case, saying the players were "supporting each other".
Watch: Schoolboy tells Boris Johnson he's 'not doing enough' about racial abuse