Rob Merrick, The Independent, July 14, 2021
Racist abuse of footballers online will trigger a ban on attending matches, Boris Johnson has announced – closing a legal loophole.
“You will not be going to the match – no ifs, no buts,” the prime minister told abusive supporters after pressure from Labour to adopt the move.
The commitment came as Mr Johnson defended Priti Patel, his home secretary, for defending fans’ right to boo England players taking the knee at the start of matches.
But Sir Keir Starmer told him: “She’s got this wrong, the whole county knows that, his own MPs know it.”
In fierce clashes over criticism of government ministers for allegedly “stoking racism”, Mr Johnson insisted: “I don’t want to engage in a political culture war of any kind.”
Currently, football banning orders do not cover offences that take place online – covering racism shouted from the terraces only – sparking pressure to beef up the Online Safety Bill.
Mr Johnson also repeated that the bill would hit tech companies failing to remove illegal and harmful content from their platforms swiftly with fines worth up to 10 per cent of their annual global turnover.
But the legislation has been long delayed and it is unclear when it will finally come into force.
The announcement will be seen as a reaction to a troubled week in which his party’s stance on racism has come under fire from both England stars and within his own party.
Tyrone Mings accused Ms Patel of “stoking the fire” of racism with her attack on taking the knee as “gesture politics”, one former Tory minister saying he is “completely right”.
Sir Keir highlighted the prime minister’s own initial refusal to condemn booing fans, warning: “There’s no point pretending that these things weren’t said.
“The England footballer Tyrone Mings, he said this labelling anti-racism messages as gesture politics served to stoke the fire of racism and hatred.
“Prime minister, they’re powerful words from someone who has himself been subjected to racist abuse. He’s right, isn’t he?”
But Mr Johnson replied, of the England team: “I support them in the way that they show solidarity with their friends who face racism.
“The home secretary has faced racism and prejudice all her career of a kind that he can never imagine, and she has taken practical steps to get black and minority officers into the police in record numbers.”