LONDON: Labour leader Keir Starmer refused to retract a controversial party byelection leaflet questioning UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s links with Prime Minister Narendra Modi during a row over football racism during Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons on Wednesday.
The row blew up when Starmer attacked Indian-origin home secretary Priti Patel for labelling taking the knee before football matches as “gesture politics” and accused her of “stoking the fire of racism and hatred” in reference to racist online abuse directed at three England players following England’s defeat to Italy at Euro 2020.
In June Patel had said she did not support “people participating in that type of gesture politics”, a reference to taking the knee, and refused to condemn fans who booed England players for doing it, saying, “That’s a choice for them, quite frankly.”
England footballer Tyrone Mings tweeted on Monday: “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.”
At PMQs, Johnson sprang to Patel’s defence, saying: “Nobody defends booing the England side. But what the home secretary has been trying to do all her life is not just fight racism, but take practical steps to advance the cause of black and minority ethnic groups, which she has done successfully, notably in the police. She has faced racism and prejudice all her career of a kind that he can never imagine.”
Johnson then asked Starmer to “retract this leaflet produced by the Labour party during the Batley and Spen byelection, which was condemned by his own MPs as ‘dog-whistle racism’”, holding up the flyer that shows Modi and Johnson shaking hands and bears the words “Don’t risk a Tory MP who is not on your side”.
Starmer ignored the question, prompting Manoj Ladwa, Modi’s former communications director, to tweet: “Very disappointing & disturbing that @UKLabour Leader @Keir_Starmer refuses to condemn ‘racist, anti-Indian’ leaflet published by Labour.”
Johnson held a meeting with social media companies on Tuesday night and told them they would be fined 10% of their global revenues unless online hate is removed from their platforms. Football banning orders will be changed to include those found guilty of online abuse, he said.
Home office minister Victoria Atkins, standing in for Patel, said the home secretary rejected the allegations made about her.