Boris Johnson has told England fans to be “respectful” to the country’s football team when players take the knee to protest against racial injustice.
The prime minister’s official spokesperson said Johnson supported the players’ and manager Gareth Southgate’s “right to peacefully protest and make their feelings known about injustices”.
The PM would also like the whole country to “get behind” the team in this summer’s European Championship and said fans should be “respectful” at matches, the spokesperson added.
But No.10 refused to directly criticise England fans who have booed players when they have taken the knee during two tournament warm-up matches this summer.
Asked whether Johnson respects the right of both the players to take the knee, and fans to boo them, the spokesperson told reporters: “No I was talking about the right of England football players to peacefully protest.”
Asked if they were refusing to criticise fans who boo England players when they take the knee, the spokesperson said: “The prime minister is supporting the England football team and wants them to succeed and wants the whole country to get behind them in that endeavour in this tournament.”
The spokesperson refused to directly tell people to stop booing.
But they added: “We’d want all England fans to be respectful in any football match and as I have said he expects the right of those who want to peacefully protest in this way.”
Boos rang out at the Riverside stadium in Middlesbrough on Wednesday when England players took the knee before their friendly win over Austria.
Speaking on Saturday, Southgate said “some people aren’t understanding the message” of the gesture and said the squad felt “more determined than ever to take the knee”.
England and Leeds United midfielder Kalvin Phillips also said the players were “confused and disappointed” with the jeering during the match but said he was “happy that the boos got cancelled out by the fans cheering in the end”.
But a minority of fans at the Riverside ignored their words in a second friendly against Romania on Sunday, again booing the players as they took the knee before kick off.
Tory MP Lee Anderson has meanwhile promised to boycott England’s game at the Euros over the gesture, wrongly claiming the players was supporting the “political movement” Black Lives Matter rather than the more overarching campaign against injustice.
His Tory colleague Brendan Clarke Smith has also said that Southgate was “insulting” the intelligence of fans who boo the protest.
Asked whether Anderson’s boycott was the right thing to do, Johnson’s official spokesperson said: “I haven’t asked [the PM] that question.
"The PM will be supporting the team throughout the tournament."
The spokesperson also pointed to Johnson's previous comments about taking the knee, saying the PM is "more focused on action rather than gestures".